Debunked: Five false photos and videos that (mis)shaped 2021

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  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

The FRANCE 24 Observers team published more than 100 examples of misinformation and disinformation that were spread on social media in 2021. From the inauguration of President Joe Biden to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, here’s a look back at five of our “debunks” of the year.

US President Joe Biden targeted by a wave of fake news

Since his inauguration in January 2021, Biden has been the subject of a number of photos and videos taken out of context to discredit him. One video – shared by former president Donald Trump's son – claimed to show Biden looking lost and confused on stage during the event at the US Capitol.

The caption on Donald Trump Jr.’s tweet says, “Yikes. If he was a Republican, the 25th amendment talk would be trending and rightly so.”

The 25th amendment of the US Constitution states that if the president is unable to do his job, if he dies or if he resigns, then he can be replaced by the vice president.

But the video was edited. The original video shows that Biden wasn’t lost and confused, he was waiting for others to leave the stage.

Another video claimed to show members of the US National Guard “turning their backs” on the new president. But a statement from the National Guard press office proved in fact that the guardsmen were just doing their job – protecting the president.

Watch our episode on Joe Biden below:

A child ‘drowned’ by the Israeli army?

In May, a photo of a little boy, with a caption claiming he was drowned by the Israeli army with the incident going unreported by “Zionist media”, started to go viral on Facebook and Twitter.

But people in France quickly recognised the child as “Little Gregory”, a boy who died under mysterious circumstances in France in 1984. People quickly took the post to be anti-Israel propaganda shared amid tensions between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

When we looked closer at the posts sharing the child’s photo, we realised that it had been shared on a pro-Israel Facebook group. Members of the group wanted to make the photo go viral – in an attempt to make it look like anti-Israel accounts were sharing obviously fake news.

>> Read on The Observers: How pro-Israel trolls created fake news about a child 'drowned' by the Israeli army

Afghanistan: American ‘war loot’ seized by the Taliban?

The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan was a major news event this year – and was a target of major pieces of misinformation.

One example comes from several videos shared on social media claiming that American troops left behind an arsenal of military equipment for the Taliban to use. One video shows a man filming himself standing on a tank, surrounded by dozens of other military vehicles.

But we spoke to experts on military equipment who confirmed that the tanks in this video are actually Soviet models and have been sitting, unused, in Afghanistan since Soviet troops left the country between 1979 and 1989.

>> Read on The Observers: American ‘war loot’ seized by the Taliban? They’re actually old Soviet tanks

A video from Ireland used to stir up anti-migrant sentiment in France

Migration has been a major talking point this year in Europe, and some politicians even used videos out of context to stir up anti-migrant, xenophobic sentiments.

This was the case with a September 14 Facebook post from a French far-right political candidate who posted a video of an assault on women at a train station, implying that the incident took place in France, and that the attackers were from a migrant background.

We found the original video – it was filmed in Dublin, Ireland and actually shows an assault perpetrated by White Irish people, not migrants in France.

A helicopter supplying terrorists in Nigeria or Mali?

Finally, the end of the year has been marked by a wave of misinformation centred on one video of a helicopter. The video has been widely taken out of context in both Mali and Nigeria. Some posts claim it shows French troops airlifting supplies to terrorist groups in Mali. In Nigeria, the claims say the government is supplying Boko Haram or “Fulani terrorists”.

The video shows a helicopter landing and people taking out cargo. We teamed up with Berbere, a Malian fact-checking media organisation, and were able to identify the logo that’s printed on the side of the helicopter. In fact, it belongs to a nature protection NGO that is based in South Africa and manages parks across Africa. We spoke to their team and learned that the video shows a routine supply drop at a nature reserve in the Central African Republic.

>> Read on The Observers: Video scene falsely said to be delivery of arms to terrorists in Mali or Nigeria

To see all the misinformation and disinformation we debunked this year:

And if you see a photo or video you're not sure about on social media, we can help! Send us a message on Facebook, Twitter or email.

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