On June 27, the French police shot 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk near Paris after he failed to stop when ordered to by traffic police. As per the news reports, the incident was captured by a passer-by which showed two officers standing on the driver’s side of the car, one of whom discharged his gun at the driver despite not appearing to face any immediate threat. After the news of the aforementioned broke out, violent protests erupted across the country.
Several videos and images which are claimed to be related to the recent protests were circulated on social media.
Claim 1: Police Brutality
A 55-second clip of French police beating up civilians is viral on social media. Users claim that the clip is related to the recent protests against in the country. The video seems to be a compilation of several video clips.
Twitter Blue user Megh Updates 🚨™ (@MeghUpdates) shared the said video on July 6 suggesting that the video was related to the recent riots. The tweet received close to 6 lakh views and was retweeted over 2,000 times. The readers should note that @MeghUpdates uses the social media platform to amplify misinformation on a regular basis. Instances of some of those can be seen here.
French Police in action mode after almost a week of rioting pic.twitter.com/HTmpteRKOk
— Megh Updates 🚨™ (@MeghUpdates) July 6, 2023
Several other users, including @TheAbhishek_IND, @team_hyv, @Amberological and @ajaychauhan41, posted the same video with similar claims. @ajaychauhan41 is another user who shares misinformation on Twitter frequently.
After breaking down the video into several key-frames we ran a reverse image search on some of them. The search led us to several tweets from April 2023 which carried the video in question.
Twitter user RadioGenova (@RadioGenova) tweeted the 55-second compilation video on April 16 with the caption: “The importance of women in Macron’s France. The Taliban approve.”
The importance of women in Macron’s France. The Taliban approve. pic.twitter.com/5R9ZmYhI7W
— RadioGenova (@RadioGenova) April 16, 2023
Several other users also shared the same video during that time highlighting that women were being poorly treated by the French police.
From the above, it is clear that the video clips are in no way related to the recent protests in the country. The video was viral on social media in April and the recent protests began after Nahel M’s death on June 27.
Claim 2: Upscale Stores Looted
As the protests in France erupted at the end of June, news of high-end stores being looted also broke. Two videos of mobs looting an Apple store and a Louis Vuitton store are being shared on social media and are being linked to the recent unrest in France.
Twitter user Manishhh (@Manishkumarsah1) shared a video on June 30 with the following caption: “Rioters looting of an Apple store in France. #Paris #FranceRiots #FranceProtests #France”. The caption suggests that the video is related to the recent protests that are ongoing in the country. The tweet has received over 1.5 lakh views and has been retweeted over 200 times. (Archive)
— Manishhh (@Manishkumarsah1) June 30, 2023
We noticed a comment under the tweet made by @Manishkumarsah1 by the user @PRGuy17. He shared a tweet from 2018 that carried a screengrab from the video of the Apple store being looted and mentioned in the caption that the video is five-year old. The original tweet made by @aapldotio on December 11, 2018, said, “Mass riots hit Apple Store in Bordeaux, France”.
Taking a hint from the above, we ran a relevant keyword search. We came across a news report by The Verge from December 11, 2018, where the headline said, “Apple Bordeaux store vandalized and robbed during French ‘yellow vest’ riots”. The report mentioned that the incident had occurred during the ‘yellow vest’ protests also known as ‘gilets jaunes’, in the country.
We found a YouTube video by Huffington Post from December 2018. The video carried the viral clip. The title, which is in French, can be translated as: “Bordeaux Apple store looted during the outbursts of yellow vests”.
It is clear from the above findings that the viral clip is not related to the recent looting that happened in an Apple store in France.
The readers should note that an Apple store was indeed vandalised and looted in Strasbourg. We came across several social media posts and news reports that included images and videos of the incident and the store.
🔴DIRECT- Le Apple Store de Strasbourg à été pris pour cible, plusieurs iPhone et autres appareils ont été dérobé. pic.twitter.com/wmmW7s48bS
— La Presse Libre (@LaPresseLibre_) June 30, 2023
Louis Vuitton store
Twitter user JAWAN.. (@cyrlreg) shared a video of mobs vandalising and looting a Louis Vuitton store claiming that the incident is related to the recent riots in France. (Archive)
— JAWAN.. (@cyrlreg) July 1, 2023
Twitter page Wokeflix (@wokeflix_) also shared the same video with the following caption: “Louis Vuitton was on 100% discount so immigrant shoppers went a little out of control. #FranceHasFallen #Wokeflix”. The twee has received 90,000 views and has been retweeted over 300 times. Alt News has debunked misinformation spread by @wokeflix_ in the past. (Archive)
— Wokeflix (@wokeflix_) June 30, 2023
News outlet Hindustan Times posted a YouTube video titled, “France: Rioters Loot Louis Vuitton, Zara, Nike Stores In Paris; Total Madness Caught on Cam | Watch” on July 1 that carried the same viral clip of the Louis Vuitton store being looted.
We ran a Google reverse image search on a key-frame of the video that led us to a tweet by the user @The_Real_Fly who shared the same clip on May 30, 2020, with the caption: “LOUIS VUITTON STORE LOOTED IN PORTLAND”. We noticed that initially the video was shared by journalist Sergio Olmos the same day.
The journalist had shared a thread of videos in which he also covered the Portland Louis Vuitton store being looted. The thread suggested that the incident had taken place during the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in the US after an African-American individual named George Floyd was killed by police.
On July 1, in a Twitter thread, Sergio Olmos clarified that a video that he took three years ago is now being circulated as from France and that the Louis Vuitton store that was looted was in Portland in the United States.
This is from Portland 3 years ago not France this week pic.twitter.com/GNIw2LELCI
— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) June 30, 2023
Therefore, the viral video of a Louis Vuitton store being looted is not from France. It is three-year-old and is from the United States.
Claim 3: Dramatic Image of Fire with Eiffel Tower in Background
An image of a fire near the Eiffel Tower in Paris is being shared on social media as visuals from the recent protests in France.
Twitter user Prof N John Camm (@njohncamm) shared the image on July 3 and the tweet has garnered over 1 lakh views and has been retweeted over a thousand times. (Archive)
Today’s Paris! Unbelievable! pic.twitter.com/13Cwxr9hbp
— Prof.N John Camm (@njohncamm) July 3, 2023
To check the authenticity of the image we ran a reverse image search on it and could not find any instance of it in any news report.
On further inspection, we noticed some discrepancies in the image, such as –
1. People can be seen casually standing in the fire
2. The street where people are standing seems to be very dark while on the other hand, the sky is bright and full of daylight.
3. We checked the street view from Google Maps available for the area around the Eiffel Tower and could not find anything similar to that in the image. The image shows two buildings on both sides of the tower but we could not find anything similar on the maps
These discrepancies suggest that the image is AI-generated.
We ran the image through various tools such as Hugging Face, Illuminarty, Optic AI or Not and Hive Moderation, which can detect whether an image has been generated using artificial intelligence. All four tools gave results that show a high probability that the image is AI-generated.
We also found that the second image shared by @PmukeshGjoshi is seven-year old and was taken when clashes erupted in Paris during the Euro 2016 soccer final.
To sum up, the viral image of a fire near The Eiffel Tower is not a visual from the recent riots in France, it is AI-generated.
Claim 4: Civilians Welcoming Refugees
Two images of civilians apparently welcoming refugees are being shared on social media as pictures from pro-refugee rallies held in France. Users are sharing the images with the intention of mocking the people of France for welcoming immigrants as the recent unrest in the country has been mostly attributed to the immigrants.
Twitter user MJ (@MJ_007Club), who has shared misinformation in the past, shared the image of a woman wearing an Amnesty International sign with the following caption: “This was France in 2016. I hope she’s the most happiest woman in France today. Her chest must be swelled with pride watching the refugees in France today on streets and TV. #FranceRiots #FranceOnFire #FranceHasFallen”. The tweet has received over 1 lakh views and has been retweeted over 300 times. (Archive)
This was France in 2016. I hope she’s the most happiest woman in France today. Her chest must be swelled with pride watching the refugees in France today on streets and TV. #FranceRiots #FranceOnFire #FranceHasFallen pic.twitter.com/B94MyWXOU9
— MJ (@MJ_007Club) July 3, 2023
Twitter Blue user Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree), who often shares misinformation, tweeted a set of four images including the one in question and the AI-generated image of fire near the Eiffel Tower. His caption seemed to be implying that since France allowed refugees, the violent protests were only expected. (Archive)
Play stupid games and win stupid prizes. pic.twitter.com/C8U8rgffyO
— Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree) July 3, 2023
We ran a reverse image search on the image in question and came across a tweet from 2018.
On July 16, 2018, Lasia Kretzel (@rhymeswpretzel) posted a Twitter thread calling out British broadcaster and former politician Nigel Farage who had shared a morphed version of an old image taken by Kretzel. She shared a screenshot from a 2015 news report where it can be seen that the sign that the woman in the viral image is wearing actually says, “My door is open for refugees”. Her tweet also mentions that the rally was held in Canada.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (or CBC) also reported on the matter at that time. CKOM, the radio station Kretzel used to work at when she took the picture, also shared a report done by the Canadian Press about the matter clarifying that the viral image was edited.
Therefore, the viral image of a woman wearing an Amnesty International sign is morphed, the original sign said, “My door is open for refugees”. Moreover, the image in itself is old and from Canada.
In this image, one can see a rally where some people are holding a banner that says, “They are not dangerous, they are in danger. Refugees welcome!” Just like this previous image, social media users are sharing this picture and mocking the French people for welcoming refugees, claiming that the image belongs to some pro-refugee rally held in France.
Managing editor of News18 Hindi Amish Devgan shared the said image along with two other images which he claimed was of the Marseille Library in 2023 and the Nalanda Library in 1202 AD. (Archive)
— Amish Devgan (@AMISHDEVGAN) July 2, 2023
We ran a reverse image search on the viral image and we found a photo of the same rally from a different angle in Getty images from September 27, 2015. The title of the image said, “Refugees welcome march in Brussels”.
Taking a hint from the above we ran a relevant keyword search and found a YouTube video posted by VideoNews on September 29, 2015, which covered the entire pro-refugee march that was held in Brussels. The viral banner part appears at the 1.39 mark of the video.
We also came across a news report by VRT NWS which carried the viral image of the people rallying and holding the banner welcoming refugees.
Therefore, it is clear that the rally image is not from France but from a pro-refugee march held in Belgium in 2015.
Claim 5: Zoo Animals on the Streets
Videos of zebras, horses and other wild animals running and roaming in the streets have surfaced. These videos are being circulated with the claim that the rioters in France forcefully released these animals from the zoo.
Twitter user Naren Mukherjee (@NMukherjee6) shared three videos where zebras and horses can be seen running on the streets clearly. One of the three videos is of poor quality and unclear. The user claims that apart from zebra, lions were also roaming the streets of France. His tweet has received over 85,000 views and has been retweeted over 300 times. (Archive)
— Naren Mukherjee (@NMukherjee6) July 1, 2023
We ran a keyword search and came across an NDTV report from 2020 titled: “Escaped Circus Zebra, Horses Run Through Paris Streets. Watch”. The report carried a screengrab from the viral videos. The report mentioned that the animals escaped from the Badin circus and the owner said that the animals escaped when the enclosure was kept unlocked and they were out for only about 15 minutes before being recaptured.
We also came across a tweet from April 11, 2020, by a user from France who shared a video of the zebras and horses running on the streets alongside moving traffic.
Pourquoi il y a un ZÈBRE dans ma cité ? POURQUOI ? Expliquez moi pic.twitter.com/FxhTtTgfSi
— Papa 02.04.23 💔🙏🏾🕊️ (@oceane_sd) April 10, 2020
As the videos resurfaced recently some were concerned and asked the Paris Zoological Park on Twitter if any animal had escaped from their zoo. To this, the zoo responded by saying that all the animals in the zoo were fine and safe.
Bonjour, ne vous inquiétez pas les animaux du @zoodeparis vont bien et sont tous en sécurité ! Belle journée à vous 🦒
— Parc zoologique de Paris (@zoodeparis) July 3, 2023
Therefore, the visuals of animals in the streets of Paris are old. The rioters did not set free zoo animals.
Claim 6: Fire in Marseille Library
A video with the claim about a library in Marseille set on fire during the ongoing riots in France has been circulating on various social media platforms. In the video, a building with numerous pillars can be seen on fire with black clouds of smoke surrounding the structure. People can be heard screaming in the background.
A verified account on Twitter Project TABS (@ProjectTabs) posted the video on July 5 claiming that the largest library in Marseille that goes by the name of Alcazar was destroyed by rioters. (Archive)
Rioters have destroyed the largest library in France with fire. The Alcazar Library in Marseille included an archive of one million rare and historically significant documents. Not a bad thing if you’re trying to erase history and rewrite it. pic.twitter.com/Hrhy4jhoF5
— Project TABS (@ProjectTabs) July 5, 2023
Facebook page Bullnews also shared the same video on July 9.
In Marseille, migrants burned one of the largest libraries in France.
The Alcazar Library’s collection contained almost a million documents, 350,000 of which were in the public domain. In particular, medieval manuscripts and unique editions, works of great thinkers and philosophers were kept here.
Posted by Bullnews on Sunday, 9 July 2023
We ran a Google reverse image search on one of the key-frames of the video and came across an article by CNN dated May 22. According to the article, the building visible in the video is the Manila Central Post Office in the Philippines. The incident took place on May 21, 2023 and caused severe damage to the structure and the documents preserved within. The cause of the fire was still unknown.
As per a news report by the the Free Press Journal, the library in Marseille was allegedly burnt down by the rioters. The report carried visuals from the scene which are not the same as the above. The visuals in the news report match the Google Maps street view images.
To sum up, the viral video of a structure on fire is not of the library in Marseille. It is the Manila Central Post Office in Philippines.
With inputs from Kajol Nanavati, an intern at Alt News.
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