Islamophobic Video Goes Viral Despite Debunking

Video claiming to portray Muslims in Birmingham, actually portrays hooligans in Switzerland

(Source: @DFRLab)

On May 30, a video shared by a far-right activist @NickScan92 started trending on Twitter and quickly garnered more than 240,000 views. The went viral, despite being debunked by at least three fact-checkers and news outlets, revealing the endurance of partisan content online.

The video was posted with a caption, “Muslims in Birmingham UK during Ramadan they want the road closed so they can break their fast Eating on the Road!” In the video, a group of a dozen individuals is seen attacking cars on a residential road.

https://twitter.com/NickScan92/status/1001763699160436736

In reality, the video depicted soccer hooligans rioting in Switzerland, and first appeared online on May 19. The Swiss press reported on the incident, using the original video.

Translation from German: “Around 90 people riot after a football match.” (Source: Bazonline.ch)

The misleading tweet was retweeted by more than 6,000 users — most of them prominent conservative activists.

Word cloud from retweeters’ bios. (Source: Sysomos)

Among the top amplifiers:

Top tweet amplifiers. (Source: Sysomos)

The video started to spread on social networks several days before it went viral on Twitter. The first false portrayals of the video appeared as early as May 27 and was promptly debunked by Hoaxlie on May 29 and subsequently by IamBirmingham.co.uk (May 31), Channel 4 (May 31) and, curiously, RT (June 1). Despite that, at the time this article was written, @DFRLab found 58 copies of the video with false descriptions still circulating on Facebook. Of those, 21 copies were shared since June 1, after the video was de-bunked by at least four media outlets or fact-checkers.

(Source: Facebook / Archived)
(Source: Facebook / Archived)
(Source: Facebook / Archived)

On Facebook, the videos were watched approximately 40,000 times in total.

On Youtube, the video did not appear to spread as widely as on Facebook or Twitter. @DFRLab identified two copies of the video, one published on May 27 and another published on June 3, more than three days after fact-checkers debunked it.

(Source: WorldWideTrends / Youtube / Archived Source)
(Source: WorldWideTrends / Youtube / Archived Source)

The two videos got upwards of 5,000 views on YouTube.

Conclusion

Despite being debunked by numerous fact-checkers, the video went viral on Facebook and Twitter in support of Islamophobic narratives, getting nearly 300,000 views in less than a week. This shows that fact-checking, although valuable, often fails to reach those who are most susceptible to disinformation.

This is not the first time that @DFRLab observed videos being used in an incorrect context to spread disinformation. Last month, DFRLab wrote about a video with false subtitles spreading in the Moldovan information space. The doctored video went viral on social networks and generated more than 500,000 views. More recently, we discovered an out-of-context video being used to accuse Palestinians of staging their own deaths during a week of violent clashes in Gaza. That video was watched nearly 2 million times.

All three case studies serve as stark reminders for social media users to remain vigilant and skeptical when consuming information online from new or unverified sources. Only this can produce digital resilience across society.


Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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