How a spoof story about Malian soldiers deserting in Canada became 'fake news'

Several different websites shared a false news story about a group of Malian soldiers that had deserted while in Canada for training. The original story was a spoof published on a parody news site.
Several different websites shared a false news story about a group of Malian soldiers that had deserted while in Canada for training. The original story was a spoof published on a parody news site.

A group of Malian soldiers apparently up and vanished while taking part in a training exercise in Canada, according to several articles published since the start of the year on African news websites. Stories of this mass desertion have been shared online several hundred times on social media since. However, the Malian Army says that no soldiers have been sent to Canada for training. Turns out, this fake news story started with a spoof published on a parody website.

Several different websites, including Bamada.net, in Mali, and Libreopinionguinee.com, in Guinea Conakry, published articles on January 5 and January 7, entitled “200 Malian soldiers who were taking part in anti-terrorist training in Canada vanished into the wilderness”. The articles alleged that 80 of these soldiers had since claimed political asylum.

"200 Malian soldiers in anti-terrorist training in Canada have vanished".

The second Facebook post says, "Since November, the Malian government has been looking for 200 army personnel who were sent to Canada for training".

Colonel Diarran Koné, Director of Information and Public Relations for the Malian Army, said that the articles were a “preposterous montage” and that “there were no Malian soldiers involved in this situation.”

The spokesperson for the Canadian Department of National Defence said, “If 200 people had escaped in Canada, we would have heard about it.”

He did say that five Malian soldiers had taken part in the Military Training Assistance Program (MTAP), which was set up by the Canadian army to train soldiers from countries outside of NATO.

These articles are exact replicas of a spoof article posted on January 1 on the satirical news site 24Jours.com / "Journal des insolites" (which translates from French roughly as Newspaper of the Weird). The France 24 Observers have written about this website on numerous occasions because its satirical articles have sparked other instances of fake news.

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Screengrab of the article posted on January 1 on 24jours.com

A satirical news site...that only mentions the satire part in its terms of use

If you look at the homepage of 24jours.com, nothing indicates that it is a spoof website. You have to delve into its terms and conditions to find out that that all of the articles on its pages are written in satire. The site says that they take “full responsibility for the satirical nature of some articles and the fictive nation of some content”. They even advise readers to watch media such as France 24, CNN, BBC and Euronews if they want verified information".

The photo that is used to illustrate the article on 24jours is an old photo that has been used on several different articles in the past (the caption of the photo doesn’t say if the photo is supposed to show Malian soldiers or not.)

Our team did a reverse image search (click here to find out how) to find out what other articles had been posted with this photo as illustration. The earliest instance of publication that we found was back in 2013, when it was used to illustrate an article about soldiers from Benin in Mali. So, in reality, this photo has nothing to do with the story on 24jours.com, which said that the soldiers in question had been sent to Canada last November.

When contacted by the France 24 Observers team, the head of Libreopinionguinee.com said that she was not aware of the satirical origin of the article. On Friday, January 11, the false information was still on the site.