As tragedy spread across Paris last night (Nov. 13), social media responded with solidarity campaigns, first-person accounts, verified information and most dangerously, a flood of rumors.
False information—from the location of attacks to French president François Hollande’s health—was produced and spread between people on the ground, journalists, and the general public, a phenomenon that is increasingly difficult to guard against during developing news events. Last night’s dynamic reproduced a pattern identified by researchers of social media: popular profiles send the rumor to users with less followers, who reproduce the false information en masse, creating a noise that reaches other popular profiles, restarting the cycle of misinformation.
The list below includes the most commonly-circulated rumors over the past 24 hours:
What really happened: The string of attacks began with an explosion outside the Stade de France, according to a statement today (Nov. 14) by Paris prosecutor François Molins. Early rumors falsely claimed that French President François Hollande had a stroke and was hospitalized. He was, in fact, evacuated uninjured from the stadium.
Forum des Halles:
Louvre and Pompidou:
Minutes after the explosions outside the Stade de France, several locations in Paris were attacked, including the Bataclan theater and restaurants Belle Equipe and Petit Cambodge. Twitter users also reported shots fired at iconic Paris locations: the Louvre museum, the commercial center Forum des Halles and the contemporary arts institute Centre Georges Pompidou. These accounts were false. Unusual police activity observed in those areas was likely in response to the attacks confirmed in neighboring districts.
Although both Pope Francis and Donald Trump did respond to the Paris attacks, many users in social media initially reproduced old statements as if they were new. The Pope’s tweet above, which was widely circulated on Friday evening, actually reflected his June encyclical on climate change. Also above, Trump’s question was originally tweeted in January this year after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.
As the attacks continued late into the night, images of a dark Eiffel Tower started to spread, supposedly in tribute to victims. In reality, the tower goes dark every night, and was following its usual schedule.
According to its own Twitter account, the Empire State Building in New York City actually went dark in solidarity on Friday. Yesterday’s colorful images of the building likely originated from January, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
The Paris attacks reportedly ended after midnight, with a siege by Paris police on the Bataclan theater. Images of solidarity marches soon spread on social media, but these too are likely from the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January. Another picture presented German anti-migrant protesters as supporters of France.
Making the rounds was also an image of the Place de la Concorde, which had actually created by French artists Lucie de Barbuat and Simon Brodbeck in 2008.