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Here Are The Hoaxes And Misinformation About The Notre Dame Fire

Online conspiracists are baselessly trying to blame the fire on their political opponents.

Francois Guillot / AFP / Getty Images

The Notre Dame Cathedral, an iconic Parisian landmark, suffered extensive damage Monday after a fire engulfed the historic structure, causing its spire to collapse and destroying much of its roof. You can read more about it here. As the cathedral burned, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and coordinated disinformation campaigns began to spread across social media.

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1. This story from InfoWars relied on a since-deleted tweet to spread a baseless claim the fire was set deliberately.

InfoWars

InfoWars, the website infamous for spreading conspiracy theories, was among the first to baselessly claim the fire was set deliberately. The cause of the fire is currently unknown, though the cathedral was recently undergoing extensive renovations. InfoWars provided no evidence for its story, except for a since-deleted tweet from Chris Hale saying he knew a Notre Dame employee.

Hale told BuzzFeed News that the tweet was only up for about 10 minutes before he removed it, saying "I never should have tweeted it."

"For the record I completely believe it was an accident," Hale said. "The jesuit who texted me — my friend — believes it was an accident. Conspiracy theorists who are going to run with this have zero evidence."

2. Far-right influencers are pushing an old narrative about “smiley face” reactions.

Twitter / PrisonPlanet

The video purports to show positive reactions to a video of Notre Dame burning, implying that people with Arabic names are celebrating. This isn’t the first time far-right personalities pointed to Facebook emojis to try and stroke anger. This also happened as far back as 2017 during the London bridge attack. During the Notre Dame fire the laughing face emojis were clearly in the minority and it's impossible to know why people chose a specific emoji, or for that matter the religion of people reacting to a Facebook video. It’s also difficult to verify the authenticity of the accounts. Bottom line: Facebook emojis on a video do not tell us anything about a group of people.

For example, we could find people with Arabic-sounding names reacting with the same emoji on a video about the New Zealand Mosque shootings:

Facebook / Screenshot

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3. A fake Twitter account impersonating CNN spread a hoax about the fire.

Twitter / CNNpolitics2020

The account was created this month and has only seven followers, but the false tweet quickly gained traction Monday. The account was finally removed by Twitter — more than two hours after it began tweeting disinformation.

4. There is a coordinated campaign to spread an article from 2016 that's unrelated to today's events.

Twitter

Dozens of accounts are tweeting a link to a 2016 article in order to create the impression that it's more recent. The story in question was about a car found near Notre Dame with gas tanks and "Arabic documents" inside. This appears to be an attempt to suggest this incident is connected to the fire. But, again, it happened roughly three years ago and is unrelated.

5. A misleading post from Jihad Watch, a website that frequently posts anti-Islam disinformation, spread across social media.

Facebook / Jihad Watch

Following the fire, Jihad Watch posted an article with a headline that made it appear like the content was directly connected to the fire. It's not. An update on the post says, "This is not a post about the fire at Notre Dame," but readers can see that only when they click on the story. The incident in question is the same one from 2016 that accounts on Twitter attempted to spread. Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, later tweeted that the post was scheduled before the fire.

6. A fake Fox News account is spreading disinformation about the fire.

Twitter / USFoxNews

The account, which claims to be a parody in its bio, spread falsehoods about the Notre Dame fire, including a fake reaction from Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. The account has since been removed.

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7. People are posting old pictures of the wrong cathedral.

8. A video that includes audio of a person shouting "allahu akbar" as the Notre Dame burns is fake.

Twitter / @nife_0f_fire

Multiple versions of this hoax video spread across social media after the fire. However, a Google search for "allahu akbar shouting" returns an old video which includes the same audio used in Monday's purported Notre Dame footage.

9. This is a photo of the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, Canada, not the cathedral in Paris.

Twitter / @JosephCurl

Although the tweet was probably meant to mourn the Notre Dame in Paris, the picture is of the Notre Dame in Montreal, Canada.

10. This is not a video of people shouting people shouting "allah akbar," it's people shouting "allais, en avant" which in french means "go on, move along."

Twitter / Magaphobia

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11. People are using this grainy video to make false claims about the fire, including that the person shown is an "Imam" or a Yellow Vest protester setting the fire. These are false.

Twitter / TipsyPianoBar

This misinformation started with a Spanish Twitter user who originally posted the video. Liberation, a national French newspaper, has sifted through other footage of the fire to find this moment. It was filmed after first responders has already entered Notre Dame due to the fire. Moments later, firefighters can be seen in the original footage.

CORRECTION

Paul Joseph Watson's tweet showed the video where the Facebook reactions were posted. A previous version of the story said the source wasn't clear.

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