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.”

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