Catalan drama a breeding ground for ‘fake news’
FOOTAGE from a five-year-old miners’ strike, a paralysed 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 fuelled 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 October 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 sixyear-old boy had been paralysed 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, said.
She said the flood of fake stories had started a few days before the referendum, which had been 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 October 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.
The emotional debate over Catalonia’s push to split from Spain, which has deeply divided the country and the region itself, was the perfect breeding ground for fake news, Jimenez said.
“People see what they want to see and they believe it. They don’t doubt it because feelings are involved.”
The Catalan government said nearly 900 people had received medical attention on the day of the referendum.
This figure was translated by some Catalan separatists into nearly 900 injured.
The police crackdown against the referendum has also been covered radically differently by Spanish state television and Catalonia regional TV.
On October 1, TV3, which depends on the Catalan government, showed Spanish government officials hailing the professionalism of security forces -followed by images of police beating would-be voters.
On Spanish public television TVE, the images of police violence did not make the nightly news. – AFP
People see what they want to see and they believe it