Over the past year, the Web has been awash with false information – sometimes called “fake news” – about a huge range of topics. The France 24 Observers team keeps a close eye on social media and makes a point of disentangling fact from fiction.

In 2018, the France 24 Observers published a total of 149 articles in our section devoted to debunking rumours and false information that circulates online. Sometimes this stems from a silly joke posted on social media that people misunderstand or take seriously. In other cases, it can be part of a mass disinformation campaign created to influence social media users. Below, you’ll find a rundown of five of our biggest debunks along with tips on how to avoid falling into the trap of misinformation you come across online.


Fake images during Iran’s protests

In early 2018, social media channels in English, Arabic and Persian were flooded with fake images purporting to show the protests then rocking Iran. One of the best known was an image of a woman wearing a headscarf kicking a police officer. However, it turns out that the photo was a still from a film.

Tip from the France 24 Observers:

When you are looking at photos that circulate on social media, it is always a good idea to run them through a simple reverse image search – especially if the photos are meant to show something happening in a country that you aren’t familiar with. To learn how to do a reverse image search (it’s easy!), click here.

The White Helmets: sorting fact from fiction

Social media is full of conspiracy theories about the White Helmets, Syrian rescue workers who help people injured in rebel-controlled areas. Our team looked into 21 images that social media users shared as supposed proof that these aid workers had been collaborating with terrorists or, in some cases, staging fake rescue operations.

Tip from the France 24 Observers team:

You should be really careful when getting news about a conflict from social media. Not all the photos are false, of course, but you should take the time to look into their origin before you share them. It’s good to check to see if the same photo that you’ve just seen has been shared elsewhere and if these different publications agree on where the photo or video was taken and what exactly it shows.

World Cup fever… and, yes, plenty of misinformation

Lots of fake stories were shared around the 2018 World Cup, ranging from claims that people had thrown stones at the Brazilian team’s bus to a video of a French fan burning an Algerian flag that was taken out of context.
But one of the most rampant online rumours centred around Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the president of Croatia, whose football team were finalists in the 2018 World Cup. Photos of various women in bikinis were widely (and falsely) shared as being photos of her. 


Tip from the France 24 Observers team:
False information isn’t just relegated to news and current affairs. There is lots of misinformation about sports that circulates online every day. When you see something on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you should take the time to check out at least two reputable media sources. You shouldn’t consider social media a trustworthy news source by itself.


Even cat videos can be too cute to be true…

Lots of people in Turkey were in tears after watching a particularly cute and sad video of a cat staring at images of its former owner, who had supposedly died recently, and cozying up to the mobile phone.

The video, which is set to tear-jerking music, was shared everywhere and even played on several television stations in Turkey. However, the story isn’t actually true. It turns out that the cat was just watching a video of a tortoise.


Tip from the France 24 Observers team:

It’s important to be vigilant even if the photo or video that you are looking at seems harmless. In this case, the cat’s owner tried desperately to debunk the rumour (and convince people that she wasn’t dead). Below, you can check out a video clip where she talks about what a difficult and distressing experience it has been to have her video misused. It’s important to remember that your share might have a real, negative impact on the people whose photo or video was doctored or taken out of context.



A wave of misinformation around France’s Yellow Vest movement

We published eight different articles (some in French only) debunking false information that circulated about France’s Yellow Vest protests. These spread not only in France, but abroad as well. We used this as an opportunity to share strategies to avoid being duped by false information.

Tip from the France 24 Observers Team:

Check out websites specialised in verifying photos, videos and rumours that circulate online, like Snopes, AFP Fact Check, and of course the France 24 Observers. The more you read, the better you’ll get at spotting misinformation yourself!