Recycled footage spreads on Twitter and Facebook in the lead-up to the European Parliament elections
In April 2019, several anti-immigrant social media accounts repurposed old videos to foment anti-immigrant sentiment in the lead-up to the European Parliament (EP) elections. Two of the videos garnered significant engagement.
In their reposting of the videos, the anti-immigrant accounts stripped the videos of their original context and framed them with xenophobic narratives. Value-based narratives accompanied by visual content have the potential to gain a large amount of online traction, regardless of the true timing and context in which the visual content originated.
Misleading Anti-Immigrant Content
A video showing a black man twerking on a police officer started to spread on Twitter on April 22, 2019. The video had appeared online before, having been filmed at the Notting Hill Carnival in London in 2017. The annual carnival celebrates Caribbean heritage with costumes, music, dancing, and food. The wave of tweets of the footage in late April, however, neglected to mention that context, instead opting to frame the video within the context of the EP elections and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
An account called @NewsCompact, for example, posted the following video accompanied by the hashtag #EUElections2019.
The top comments on the tweet were hostile toward the man in the video.
The @NewsCompact tweet garnered 275 retweets while the @Persia_Warrior tweet garnered 650 retweets. The social media monitoring tool Sysomos identified 498 instances — retweets and quotes combined — of the @NewsCompact tweet and 1,339 instances of the @Persia_Warrior tweet.
Two Facebook users, one Dutch and the other American, reposted the tweet on Facebook. The Dutch account, Invert Zet, added text in Dutch calling for a stop to the influx of asylum seekers, while the American account, Newdelia Domingues, added the phrase, “Wake Up America!” Neither post achieved significant engagement.
The social media posts welcomed people to “Europe 2019” and did not explain that the video had originated at an annual festival celebrating Caribbean heritage. When the video first appeared online in 2017, most British tabloids characterized the incident as an assault, at least one outlet, Metro.co.uk, also mentioned that viewers of the video came to different conclusions about the incident, with some claiming that the man and the policewoman were merely dancing, as the policewoman had her hand around the black man’s waist at the beginning of the video.
On April 10, the @NewsCompact account tweeted another video showing a black man vandalizing a “European store.” The tweet also used the #EUElections2019 hashtag.
The footage, however, was not recorded in April 2019 in Europe; it was recorded in January 2018 in South Africa. The man had vandalized an H&M store in protest of a racist advertisement. The misleading tweet garnered 40 retweets. Other Twitter users identified it as taken out of context, but some insisted that the footage was of an incident in Europe.
The video appeared on Twitter on April 2, 2019. A tweet featuring it in English by the account @winstonCovfefe garnered 5,745 retweets, while a tweet in German by the account @deutsch365 garnered 279 retweets.
The on-screen caption on the video suggested that the story was about protests sparked by Denmark’s burqa ban. The protests took place in August 2018, however, not in April 2019, as the timing of the posts suggested. The DFRLab did not identify any news stories in Danish citing the rape statistics mentioned in the video.
The video included the right-wing One American News Network logo, suggesting that the outlet was the original source for the video. The DFRLab, however, did not identify a news story on the “burqa ban” in Denmark or rape statistics in Denmark published on the One American News Network website.
The video included an interview with a man identified as Hanni Ali, who reportedly resides in Copenhagen. This interview, however, was in fact recorded in 2015 and of the Danish People’s Party (DF) leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl. The Kremlin-owned media outlet RT had originally conducted the interview during Dahl’s successful campaign for a “No” result on the 2015 referendum on Denmark’s opt-in to the European Union (EU) Justice and Home Affairs legislation that would have broadened the country’s participation in the organization’s activities. He did not mention the immigrant rapes statistics during the interview.
Facebook user Tb Sis shared the video on the German right-wing populist AfD party Facebook page, which the party actively uses in its campaign ahead of the EP elections. The video had garnered only two angry reactions at the time of analysis.
These cases show how anti-immigrant actors continue to use false or misleading stories, coupled with incendiary rhetoric, to boost and mobilize their following. When those stories incorporate visual content, their potential to attract and hold the attention of their intended audience grows.
Furthermore, they demonstrate how existing videos can be repurposed and re-cycled in the lead-up to elections and other sensitive events. Stripping videos of their original context allows online actors with established agendas to frame visual content to fit their narratives of choice, without having to create wholly new content.
Read more DFRLab #ElectionWatch posts here.
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