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George Floyd: Fake White House image and protest videos debunked

A protester hold up her phone to show a line of police in riot gear something on the screenImage copyright JIM WATSON

There has been so much footage of the George Floyd protests swirling around on social media it’s been hard to separate the real from the fake.

We’ve selected some of the most widely shared misleading posts, images and videos from the past week.

Lights out at the White House?

A photo of the US presidential residence apparently with all its lights off has been shared widely on Twitter, including by Hillary Clinton.

Image caption The photo was shared with a contrasting one celebrating gay rights under President Obama

Some people shared it to criticise Donald Trump’s leadership during a time of crisis.

However, a reverse image search reveals that the photo is old – taken in 2014 – and it’s been edited to make it look like all the lights are off.

The doctored version appeared in an article on the spoof news site News Thump in 2017 about Donald Trump turning off the lights to hide from FBI agents.

“Obviously the purpose of our photoshop wasn’t to mislead, but to complement a joke we were making,” says Richard Smith, managing editor of News Thump.

Image caption The White House’s Tweet was soon deleted, but not before it had racked up more than one million views

Whose bricks are these?

It wasn’t just the White House’s lighting being debated this week, its Twitter account was also under scrutiny.

On Wednesday the official White House Twitter account shared a video montage showing piles of bricks on the streets in different cities, and protesters throwing projectiles. The accompanying Tweet accused an anti-fascist group, Antifa, and “professional anarchists” of domestic terror through “staging bricks and weapons to instigate violence”. It didn’t provide any evidence to support this claim.

Earlier in the week, we investigated some of the videos in the montage, and found that the bricks had been there before the protests started, often at construction projects in different cities.

One recent video from Dallas of this type has been watched more than seven million times on Twitter. It shows a masked protester in front of some bricks saying, “This is a set-up”, and that there is “no construction” nearby.

Images shared by a local resident showed recent construction works in the area. Dallas City Hall also confirmed this to the BBC.

On Facebook and Instragram there have been more than one million interactions with posts mentioning bricks and speculation about a set-up, part of a surge in social media posts discussing the protests.

There have been more than 33 million Tweets mentioning either “Blacklivesmatter” or “blacklivesmatters” since 25 May, along with a deluge of videos documenting the protests, and police brutality.

Police officers accused of looting

As we saw with those brick videos, rumours the protests were staged or set up have thrived online and they’ve also implicated the police.

A video with three million views claimed to show police in Boston smashing up their own car. The narrator says “they’re going to blame it on the protesters”.

However, another video of the same vehicle shows people kicking in the windscreen and jumping on the roof.

Boston Police told a local TV station the car was already damaged when the police got there and officers were removing part of the windscreen to drive it away safely.

Meanwhile, widely shared posts on Twitter have accused police officers of looting. Photos and videos show an officer loading trainer boxes into the boot of a car in Chicago.

But Chicago police say the rumours are “false” and explain that the officer was helping the victim of a burglary nearby, and the images show the detective helping to load goods into the shop owner’s car.

1992 protest video shared on TikTok

We’ve seen lots of examples of old videos re-shared without clear labelling.

A video of an African-American man pleading with people not to destroy his business has been widely shared on TikTok. The posts imply it’s from the recent protests, but the video is actually from 1992.

He says: “It’s not right, I came from the ghetto too. Same as all of you did.”

The initial post was captioned “open yalls eyes it’s not a protest no more” without any reference to it being from an old protest.

The clip has been viewed more than five million times, shared more than 160,000 times and has amassed more than 20,000 comments.

The footage was actually taken at the LA riots in 1992, following the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King in 1991.

Analysis

By Marianna Spring, Specialist disinformation and social media reporter

There have been lots of genuine conversations about Black Lives Matter happening on social media this week. With so much activity online, though, come misleading claims, suspicious activity and conspiracies.

Bad information in this setting can cause confusion, stoke tensions and distract from factually correct information.

In many ways these protests, happening against the backdrop of a global pandemic, are the perfect breeding ground for misinformation.

Reporting by Alistair Coleman, Joice Etutu, Shayan Sardarizadeh, Marianna Spring, Olga Robinson and Ben Strick.

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