Facts Matter: Fake photo used to push theory terrorists set fire at Notre Dame

As the 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was in flames last week, social media was filled with images posted by people at the scene.

But one photo of two men laughing as the cathedral burns behind them was doctored to fuel anti-Muslim rhetoric and falsely claim the fire was set by terrorists, according to

The photo was shared on Facebook with the caption, "Muslims laughing while Notre Dame is burning."

French authorities have said they are not investigating arson or terrorism as a cause of the fire.

According to PolitiFact, the picture was posted on the day of the fire on Sputnik, a site run by the Russian government.

The National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado Denver pointed to an earlier version of the image, PolitiFact said.

"The two front persons are inserted," the center's director Catalin Grigoras told PolitiFact. He said the image shows obvious editing.

The post was flagged in Facebook's effort to identify false news and misinformation on its site, PolitiFact said.

YouTube algorithm failed

A "misguided algorithm" on YouTube was blamed for information about the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. to be included alongside live streams of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, according to The New York Times.

As news feeds of the Paris fire were streamed on YouTube, some were paired up with a panel that included information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The mistake involved a fact-checking feature recently installed by YouTube, the Times said.

The feature is designed to pull information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia to include with topics which have often been the subject of misinformation, such as the moon landing or the Oklahoma City bombing.

"These panels are triggered algorithmically and our systems sometimes make the wrong call," YouTube said in a statement.

No lawsuit following Pirro comment

Social media posts claiming Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar filed a $100 million lawsuit against Fox News host Jeanine Pirro are false, according to The Associated Press.

During Pirro's show "Justice with Judge Jeanine" last month, the TV host asked if the wearing of a hijab by Omar, a Muslim, is "antithetical to the U.S. Constitution," AP said.

No lawsuit has been filed in New York, where Fox News is headquartered, in Omar's home state of Minnesota or in federal court, AP said.

The report of a lawsuit "is false," Omar spokesman Jeremy Slevin told AP.

Pirro's show was off the air for two weeks following the comment about Omar, AP said.

Ocasio-Cortez was never on 'Price is Right'

An image making the rounds on social media this month shows an appearance by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on "The Price is Right," guessing the price of an item as "free."

The photo is fake and accompanies a satirical article published on the website The Babylon Bee, according to

The false story claims Ocasio-Cortez attended the show and "introduced herself as a U.S. representative and rising star of the Democratic Party," Snopes said. "Every time it was her turn to estimate the price of an item her answer was 'free,'" the article said.

The doctored image is made up with a combination of an actual photo from an October episode of the daytime game show and a still photo taken from an appearance by Ocasio-Cortez on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in June 2018, Snopes said.

The appearance of the contestants on either side of Ocasio-Cortez were also altered to make it appear "less directly tied to an actual episode that aired," said The Babylon Bee, which says in a disclaimer it is a "trusted source for Christian news satire."

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at

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