November 29, 2017

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a fact check from the Dutch embassy in the U.S.

This morning’s retweets by the president of the United States included one fake and two old anti-Muslim videos.

Donald Trump retweeted the videos from Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right Britain First group in the United Kingdom, all of which purport to show Muslims committing crimes. The move instantly captured the attention of the White House press scrum, as well as British media, for the president’s obvious play to his voter base and tacit recognition of Fransen, who has been charged with religiously aggravated harassment in the U.K.

Islamophobic sentiment aside, there’s one big problem with the videos: All of them were taken out of context — and they seem to have been reinterpreted and amplified by fake news, hyperpartisan and Russian sites over the past few years.

The first video, which Fransen tweeted Tuesday afternoon, purportedly shows a Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy on crutches.

But Peter Burger, coordinator of the Nieuwscheckers fact-checking project at Leiden University, told Poynter that GeenStijl — the site that originally published the video on its Dumpert platform — posted a debunk saying the perpetrator was neither a migrant nor Muslim, and that he’s since been arrested. The Dutch embassy in the U.S. tweeted this afternoon to say the perpetrator was raised in the Netherlands, where he also completed his sentence (Dutch authorities declined to confirm the boy's religion because he's underage).

GeenStijl, which Burger said claims to be politically incorrect and frequently sympathizes with right-wing populism, took the video down a few days after publishing it May 12 at the request of police and the victim. But that didn’t stop fake news and hyperpartisan sites from grabbing the video and recontextualizing it.

According to a reverse Yandex search, the video was widely shared on fake news and hyperpartian sites after GeenStijl published it last spring. It went viral after the conspiracy Twitter account Save the West shared it May 13, reframing the video as a migrant attacking a Dutchman. Russian sites The Daily Hype and Hlamer picked up the video days later, and other iterations of the story added in that the perpetrator was Muslim. 

It’s unclear why Fransen shared the video more than six months after it was originally posted, although her anti-immigrant group has been accused of sharing misleading information in the past.

The other two retweeted videos were accurate but lacked context.

The source of the second video, which depicts a man destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, seems to be the Middle East Media Research Institute, a nonprofit press monitoring organization that has been both praised for highlighting hate speech and criticized for portraying Islam in a negative light. The site posted the video in 2013 which, from the transcription, seems to be a staged video of Sheik Omar Raghba in Syria destroying the Christian idol in the name of Allah. It was then picked up by several hyperpartisan sites and Facebook pages.

The third video depicts an “Islamist mob” pushing a teenager off a building. It has a watermark from, a domain that appears to be offline but doesn’t expire until March, and, according to the last Wayback Machine screenshots from June, dabbled in right-wing hyperpartisanship. But before making its way to NoMoreCocktails, it seems that the video was first published by the Agence France-Presse and was later used alongside a BBC story in 2013. The man depicted in the video was thrown off the building during the overthrow of then-president Mohamed Morsi, a crime for which one man was later hanged.

Again, it’s unclear why Fransen shared these videos more than four years after their publication. In all three cases, Fransen failed to add context, instead sensationalizing them by emphasizing the role of Islam. And the response to Trump resharing them has been forceful. 

After near universal condemnation from British policymakers, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement against Trump’s retweets, saying, “It is wrong for the president to have done this.” It was a rare rebuff against the U.S., a key British ally.

Still, it would seem the White House isn’t too concerned. In a media briefing this morning, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed concerns about the first video’s veracity.

"These are real threats we have to talk about," she said. "Whether it is a real video, the threat is real."

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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