Fake news fuels Catalonia crisis tension
MADRID: Footage from a five-yearold miners’ strike, a paralyzed young boy and woman’s broken fingers: Images swarming Spanish social media during the Catalonia independence crisis have one thing in common.
They all are fake news. Misleading news reports, often about violence involving police, and partisan media coverage have fueled tensions as each side seeks to influence the outcome of Spain’s toxic political crisis.
One photo of a woman whose fingers were allegedly broken by police to stop her from voting during a banned independence referendum in Catalonia on Oct. 1 was widely distributed on social media.
She later told Catalan television that doctors had only diagnosed swollen cartilage in her hand.
Other widely-circulated reports said that a policeman sent to Catalonia to block the plebiscite had died while on assignment, and that a six-year-old boy had been paralyzed by police brutality. All were false.
“We have never seen this in Spain until now,” Clara Jimenez, a journalist in charge of a popular Twitter account called “Maldito Bulo,” or “Damned Hoax,” which verifies stories that circulate online, told AFP.
She said the flood of fake stories started a few days before the referendum, which was marred by police violence.
The bogus reports, shared widely online, form part of the global phenomenon of “fake news,” with Russia in particular being blamed for spreading misinformation in a bid to influence politics.
Catalonia’s separatist government went ahead with the Oct. 1 vote even though a judge had ordered police to close polling stations and seize ballot boxes to stop it from happening.
Images of injured voters — real and fake — then circulated around the world.
Many of the people allegedly hurt by police were really pictured from different demonstrations in other places.
Some of the misleading images came from a miners’ strike in the northern region of Asturias five years ago, according to an investigation by private TV station La Sexta.
The emotional debate over Catalonia’s push to split from Spain, which has deeply divided the country and the region itself, is the “perfect breeding ground for fake news,” said Jimenez.
“People see what they want to see and they believe it. They don’t doubt it because feelings are involved.”