This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of April, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date: 15 April 2019
Media Outlet: Sputnik France, Russian news agency operating in France. Western officials and observers have criticised Sputnik for being part of the "Kremlin misinformation machine."
Description of Anti-Muslim Content: The Facebook page of Sputnik France posted a photo of two non-white men smiling leaving the police cordon around Notre Dame Cathedral during the fire. The photo was published with no commentary by the news agency.
Myth Debunked: The choice of this photo, which shows two men laughing, and is in contrast with the abounding images of people saddened by the news of the fire, cannot be casual. As the many comments below the photo show, the two men are overwhelmingly assumed to be Muslim and are believed to be laughing while Notre Dame is burning. The fact-checking website Politifact wrote that research from several organisations show that the photo was authentic. Regardless of whether the photo was doctored or not, this image inserts itself into, and fuels, an existing narrative that sees Muslims rejoice at tragedies in the Western world. This is what people read when they see two non-white men apparently smiling at a site of an accident. This photo circulated on social media as supposed proof that Muslim people do not care about the destruction of the Cathedral. Given the current climate of xenophobia, incidents like this lead the public to draw wrong conclusions. In 2017, a similar case happened after the Westminster attack in London. A picture showing a woman with a hijab on Westminster Bridge walking past victims of the attack while looking at her phone was widely shared on Twitter and by anti-Islam platforms by way of evidence of her lack of concern, and extended as lack of concern by all Muslims. Other photos actually show the same woman in a state of distress and interviews with her reveal that she was calling her family to say she was safe. The Telegraph later reported that “one of the accounts which prompted the misleading image to go viral and fuelled a racist backlash was actually a troll backed by the Russian Government”. As with the case of the photo of the woman on Westminster Bridge, the two men laughing with Notre Dame in flames behind them is selective and misleading.
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