Fake images of France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ protests spread abroad

Some images that were shared online as showing the Yellow Vest movement in France have been manipulated or taken from another event.
Some images that were shared online as showing the Yellow Vest movement in France have been manipulated or taken from another event.

Since mid-November, the “Yellow Vests” movement has made headlines in France by holding protests each weekend, across the country. While the demonstrations first started over an increase in diesel taxes, they have grown into a wider movement protesting the cost of living and President Emmanuel Macron’s policies. Since the start, a number of fake images linked to the protests have been circulating online, some shared by the Yellow Vests’ supporters and others by their detractors. Now, with the protests drawing international attention, fake images linked to the Yellow Vests are being shared abroad, too.

Here are a several examples to watch out for:


1. A Colombian politician’s blunder

This photo was shared by Gustavo Petro, a Colombian politician who ran for president last spring on a leftist ticket (he lost to his right-wing rival Ivan Duque). In his tweet, he wrote: “This is the demonstration in Paris against the rise in the price of gasoline.” He then encouraged his followers to join him in a similar protest against a tax on food in Colombia.

Screengrab of Gustavo Petro’s tweet.


For anyone who has been following the Yellow Vest protests, this photograph immediately looks strange: the eponymous bright yellow vests are missing.

All it takes is a simple reverse image search (learn how to do one here) to see that this is actually an old photo. It was taken on January 11, 2015, and shows a solidarity march that took place in Paris after terrorists attacked the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.


2. A guillotine for another occasion

This one has been shared by both Italian- and English-speaking internet users.

The photo shows a guillotine manned by people wearing yellow vests. A Facebook page in Italian (whose main activity is sharing memes about Vadimir Putin) added this text onto the photograph: “’Hooray President Macron, hope is coming to Europe’”, and, on the bottom: “Starter pack”. Around the guillotine is a bright yellow ribbon that matches the yellow vests.


A reverse image search reveals that this is an old photo that has been PhotoShopped.


As fact-checkers from AFP Factuel have pointed out, the original photograph dates back to January 2018, and it shows a protest organised by a French union to symbolically denounce cuts in the culture budget. The yellow vests were digitally added to the people in the photo, and the ribbon, which wqs originally red, was changed to yellow.


3. Right movement, wrong place

This particularly popular video was shared more than 7,600 times on the Arabic-language Facebook page for the Algerian satellite TV station El Djazairia One. The caption reads: “The French parliament was shut down by citizens using cement blocks.”

Screengrab of the video. To watch the video, click here


However, both wings of the French parliament – the Senate and the National Assembly – are housed in buildings much larger than this one.

So what does this video really show? There’s a clue in the photo: a placard on the gate says “Nouvelle Aquitaine”, which is a region in southwest France.

Then, by Googling a few keywords in French like “Nouvelle Aquitaine”, “gilets jaunes” (“yellow vests”) and “mur” (“wall”), it only takes a few minutes to dig up a recent article by a local TV channel that shows the same scene, in front of the same gate.

It turns out that these protesters were indeed part of the Yellow Vest movement, but this scene didn’t take place at France’s parliament buildings in Paris; it happened at the regional council building in Limoges, a provincial city in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. According to local journalists, approximately 2,000 “Yellow Vest” protesters demonstrated in Limoges on November 24, and some of them managed to build a small wall blocking the front entrance of the regional council.

READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: Four ways to verify images linked to France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ protests

Article written by Gaelle Faure.