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Dhaka Tribune

Fake news on the rise leading up to EU election

  • Spoofed websites mimic reputable news sources
  • Deepfake videos manipulate politics, targeting youth
  • Misinformation exploits real events to spread false narratives
Update : 13 May 2024, 07:06 PM

Ahead of the European Parliament elections in June, fake news is becoming increasingly prevalent online. DW Fact Check explores four examples of how cybercriminals are spreading disinformation.

Does Marine Le Pen have nieces we've never heard about?

In April, users claiming to be nieces of Marine Le Pen posted videos on TikTok promoting her far-right National Rally party.

But Amandine and Lena Marechal are not real. These purported nieces of the far-right politician were deepfakes, or manipulated videos, as was quickly reported in the French media and on the social media platform.

The makers of the videos used  artificial intelligence (AI)  to superimpose pictures of the faces of Marine Le Pen and her actual niece, Marion Marechal, onto images of other people. This created the illusion of younger family members, who could then proclaim to be "proud to be French" and admiring of their "aunt."

According to French media reports, the account @amandineeette had over 32,000 followers. It has since been deleted — just like the account @lena.marechal.lepen. It seems the two accounts were created to make the far right appear more appealing to a younger audience ahead of the upcoming European elections.

Does our chocolate now contain crickets?

In January 2023, a social media post suggesting that chocolate might soon be made with crickets caused quite a stir online. The image depicted what looked like a photo of a package of chocolate made by the popular German brand Ritter Sport. The packaging featured pictures of a cricket and two pieces of chocolate, and the German words "Ganze Grille," which translate into English as "whole cricket."

After the stir, Ritter Sport announced that it was a joke and pointed to the hashtag #fakesorte that had been included in the post. A harmless gag by the marketing team, it reiterated.

But a gag inspired by reality. In late January 2023, the European Commission passed regulation 2023/5 that really permits crickets to be used in foodstuffs.

In April of this year, just two months before the European elections, the matter popped up again on Hungarian social media, repurposed to form the basis of a disinformation campaign about EU regulations permitting insect-based food ingredients.

This is just one example of how images taken out of context and misleading claims can be used to whip up distrust towards the European Union (EU) and its institutions.

Did Ursula von der Leyen's grandmother meet Adolf Hitler?

Some posts have suggested European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has a family photo album that contains a picture of her grandmother shaking hands with Adolf Hitler. That supposed picture, captioned "My Sweet Granny Didn't Wash Her Hand for a Month after This Precious Occasion," has been liked many times.

It's a classic example of politically motivated fake news. It went viral after political scientist and activist Norman Finkelstein picked it up and posted it on X, formerly Twitter, where he has half a million followers.

The image suggests that von der Leyen's grandparents were Nazi sympathizers. While the picture itself is real and historically correct, the woman in the photo is not Ursula von der Leyen's grandmother at all.

Fact checkers have discovered that her name was Hildegard Zantop and she was a farmer in East Prussia. There is nothing to connect her to the European Commission president.

The picture, which was taken at a Nazi rally in 1937, is archived in an East Prussia picture library.

The fact that the name is spelled as "von der Leyne" in the post gives a first hint that it is a fake post. Finkelstein has described Ursula von der Leyen as "the Nazi princess" and "Frau Genocide."

Spoofing in the German press

In another example of fake news, an article which seemed to have been published on the website of the German tabloid daily Bild started circulating. It claimed that the    Alternative for Germany's (AfD) candidate for Europe, Maximilian Krah, owed his eight children over €80,000 in child support, which triggered outrage amid critics of the far-right party.

Several fact-checking sites reported that Bild had never published the article in question and explained that cybercriminals had created a fake website that imitated the original, in what's called spoofing.

The online response to the article shows just how convincing the fake portal was. Countless users linked the article and left comments. But a closer look reveals clues that the site is fake.

For example, the teaser at the top of the page, which translates as: "AfD's Maximilian Krah: Is he really the best man for Europe?" does not match the headline of the article. A quick Google search will direct you to the real Bild report on Maximilian Krah, which was published on April 24, 2024. The original article contains the same image as the screenshots posted on X.

Another recent example of spoofing was an article whose headline translates as "The Greens have lulled Germany to sleep," that appeared to have been published by the weekly magazine Spiegel.

The article accused Germany's Greens  of impoverishing the German population with its policies combating climate change. A closer inspection shows that the website the article was posted on is a clone of Spiegel's actual website. One clue is that in the URL are the words spiegel.ltd instead of spiegel.de, and also the fact that the article is in the foreign politics section despite being about German politics.

Alexandre Alaphilippe. the executive director of the nonprofit EU DisinfoLab, which fights and raises awareness about disinformation in Europe, warns that such "Doppelganger campaigns," are likely to become more frequent.

He told press agencies that the operators of disinformation liked to test all "defense mechanisms" to find weak areas for infiltrating.

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