The FRANCE 24 Observers team debunked 128 images that were either doctored or wrongly attributed in 2019. Our articles explain how we proved that these images, photos and videos were false. To celebrate the end of the year, we made a list of some of our top fact-checks.

[Click on the image below to check out each story and how we went about fact-checking it]


March – Did someone really discover piles and piles of money in the home of a politician?

The FRANCE 24 Observers team came across a video back in March that supposedly shows stacks and stacks of money found at the home of a corrupt senator in Haiti. Turns out, the same video was being circulated in Cameroon, where people said it showed money embezzled by local politicians. Other social media users said the money was being hoarded by a Russian senator.

Turns out, none of those stories are true. In reality, these stacks of money were part of a sculpture created by a Spanish artist. Our team spoke to him about how his artwork had sparked rumours all across the world.

>> Read on The Observers: Did a former minister in Cameroon really burn embezzled money?

April  Fake news about the Notre-Dame fire

On April 15, 2019, people all over the world watched as an accidental fire engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But false information about the fire started circulating quickly. Online, quite a few people disputed the cause of the fire and pointed to what they claimed was a suspicious presence on the roof captured in some of the footage. Several fake media accounts claimed that the fire was a “terrorist act”. In West Africa, people shared photos of supposedly diabolical statues said to feature on the cathedral and may have played a sinister role in the fire. It turns out that most of these statues weren’t even from Notre-Dame.

This fire generated a lot of fake news. In total, we did ten different fact-checks about the Notre-Dame fire.

>> Read on The Observers: How to avoid falling for fake news about the Notre-Dame fire
May – The man who supposedly survived a prison run by Sudan’s ousted president Omar al-Bashir

In early May, a photo started circulating on social media that was said to show an emaciated political prisoner who had been held by Sudan’s former president, Omar al-Bashir. The skeletal prisoner was apparently released after al-Bashir was forced to resign on April 11 after months of protests gripped Sudan. Turns out, however, the photo actually shows a Kenyan man who suffers from malnutrition.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to find out more about this man and what happened to him.

>> Read on The Observers: Fake reports of man imprisoned by Sudan’s ousted al-Bashir circulate online 

July – Rumours spread like wildfire during Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Nearly 1,500 people have died from the Ebola virus in North Kivu, a province in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo since August 2018. Since late 2018, lots of people have contacted our team to tell us about the rumours circulating about this virus and the international medical response to it. Others have reached out to tell us about the violence sparked by these rumours. Aid workers and medical personnel have come under frequent attack from a suspicious population and local militia groups.

These rumours are often based on false information and have real consequences on the ground.

As part of a special investigation, we talked to our Observers about these rumours and their consequences :

October – Did an armed robot really turn on humans?

Sometimes misinformation spreads when people mistake a parody for a real event. That’s what happened with a video made by Corridor Digital, a Los-Angeles based production studio with a large following on Youtube, known for its viral videos with heavy special effects. The video shows a highly intelligent robot taking part in a military exercise.

Lots of viewers were duped by the "Bosstown Dynamics" logo, which is clearly a parody of "Boston Dynamics,"  a real robotics company. While the video itself may have been a parody of the risks of advanced robotics technology, it was taken seriously by lots of viewers.

>> Read on The Observers: Does an armed robot really turn on humans in this viral video?


November – Don’t fall for the poisoned Turkish cakes video

In November, our team came across a strange video showing a white pill hidden in a cake made by a Turkish manufacturer. The video circulated across the globe, sparking panic about a mass poisoning plot in Italy, the United States, Israel, Mexico and other countries.

It turns out that there are geopolitical forces behind this video-- it was made as part of a campaign to boycott Turkish products after the country led an offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. We took a closer look at the footage and it is pretty likely that the pill was placed in the cake after it was already broken open.

>> Read on The Observers: Poisoned cakes from Turkey? A viral video causes panic all around the world

December – Was Greta Thunberg caught on camera shooting a rifle?

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is one of the major figures to emerge in 2019 and was voted person of the year by the American magazine Time for her work to combat climate breakdown and hold those responsible to account.

In December, a video started circulating online showing what appeared to be Thunberg shooting a rifle, an image that doesn’t exactly align with her role as an environmental activist. It turns out, however, that the girl shooting the rifle isn’t Thunberg at all, she just happens to look like her.

>> Read on The Observers: Debunked: This is not Greta Thunberg firing a rifle

For more information...

To find out more about the fact-checking done by the Observers team in 2019: