Does this viral image actually show an old woman 'attacked by a migrant'?
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A group of anti-migrant Facebook users in France are circulating photos of a bloody beating in Germany from more than two years ago, distorting the original version of the story to demonize migrants coming to Europe.
An article entitled, Germany: Old woman attacked by a migrant ‘This photo should be shown in the newspaper!' from a Swiss site, Lesobservateurs.ch, which regularly posts right-wing and anti-migrant content, resurfaced this week. It has been shared more than 10,000 times since the beginning of the week.
Accompanying the article is a picture of victim Hilde M. from what is said to be the back of an ambulance, with blood on her face after she was reportedly punched by an unknown assailant on a Saturday afternoon near her home in Leipzig. Those sharing the article and the graphic picture do not mention that the article is from January 2017, when the Swiss outlet cited a report from German newspaper Bild, which had interviewed the woman.
The right-wing website Lesobservateurs.ch said in its headline that the woman pictured was attacked by a migrant.
The story in Bild cites Hilde M. as saying that the man who attacked her was wearing a cap and was a “southern type,” an expression that roughly means “Mediterranean” and can refer to many groups without providing any exact information about country of origin. It does not mention whether the man was a migrant, as Lesobservateurs.ch later reported, or a German citizen.
From 'stranger' to 'migrant'
The attack took place on Saturday January 14, 2017, according to the Bild report and another in local newspaper Leipzig Volkszeitung. Bild's version was published the following evening, referring to the man as a "southern" type.
Details from the Bild report were then taken by other websites, including The Epoch Times Deutsche, the German offshoot of a New York outlet that often pulls stories from around the web. Three days after the attack it described the assailant using the German term “fremde”, which can mean both "stranger" and "foreigner."
Lesobservateurs.ch then wrote its own version of the story two days later, citing The Epoch Times as its source, which put the word "migrant" in the headline and began by saying that “southern type” is used to describe migrants in Germany. The Swiss article also labeled the man as a migrant in the headline, then called the man an “étranger,” a term that can also mean both "stranger" and "foreigner."
Since 2017 the Lesobservateurs.ch version of the article has been shared widely at various points by those opposed to immigration. Before the post went viral again this week, a similar post in March 2018 was shared 16,000 times.
But what about the photo?
One of the basic tenets of fact-checking is verification of an image by finding the original source. However, this was difficult with the photo of the bleeding victim, because in the original account of the story still available on Bild.de, no photo was to be found.
However, internet archives for the local Leipzig page of Bild.de show that the photo of a woman covered in blood was prominently displayed on the website early on January 16. We can deduce that the original article likely featured the photo as well. The Bild story also mentions that the victim wanted her photo to be shared.
An archived page from the local section of Bild.de shows that the outlet used the victim's photo.
Christian Senft, a representative for Bild’s parent company Axel Springer, told the France 24 Observers team that the newspaper’s rights to the photo had automatically expired after one year.
Michaela Dobbeck, who wrote the article for Bild, did not immediately respond to questions about having interviewed the woman or where she received the photo.
Though the photo shared in the article corresponds to a real story of an attack in Leipzig, there is no information to confirm whether the unknown assailant was a “migrant.”