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The Fact Checker video team goes through heaps of visual misinformation every day, whether it’s manipulated video, suspect content from politicians or social media posts ostensibly capturing global events. Some of these suspect videos are quickly forgotten and don’t cause much harm, while others spread like wildfire. Our new mini-series — “Fakeout” — delves into cases around the globe in which online information impacted real-life stories and people in life-altering ways.

GABON

THE SUSPICIOUS VIDEO THAT HELPED SPARK AN ATTEMPTED COUP

President Bongo came to power in the oil-rich country of Gabon in 2009, after the death of his father who had been in power for 42 years. But Bongo’s rule was contentious. Although Gabon is a relatively stable country, his 2016 reelection was met with violence and accusations of fraud. Three months after his disappearance from public life, a video of Bongo addressing the nation on New Year’s Day was released. For some, this was proof of life. Others called the video a deepfake: a fake video created by artificial intelligence. A week later, soldiers stormed the national radio station. Watch our investigation.

INDIA

HOW MISINFORMATION ON WHATSAPP LED TO A MOB KILLING

The second episode focuses on southern India, where misinformation on WhatsApp led to a mob killing. Five men traveled to Handikera, a village in the southern state of Karnataka, on July 13, 2018. The summer vacation they had planned quickly turned violent. According to eyewitness accounts, adults working in the fields saw the men handing chocolate to the children and grew suspicious. The villagers sent video of the men to a nearby village of Murki falsely claiming they were child kidnappers. In response, people in Murki violently beat the men and ultimately killed Mohammed Azam, a 32-year-old software engineer.

This is just one of many incidents in which rumors of child kidnappers led to deadly violence in India. Our investigation re-creates the events of that day and analyzes how destabilizing rumors can spread quickly on messaging apps.

WESTERN SAHARA

VIDEO CONTRADICTS MOROCCAN GOVERNMENT’S JUSTIFICATION OF A BRUTAL BEATING

Our final installment brings us to the disputed African territory of Western Sahara (or Moroccan Sahara to some) where a video contradicted the Moroccan government’s justification for a brutal beating of two men.

Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast of Africa with a population of more than 600,000. Morocco controls three quarters of the region and maintains a heavy security presence over Sahwaris, an ethnic group indigenous to Western Sahara and its surrounding areas.

A media blackout encompasses the region, but a video was circulated on social media showing Moroccan police brutally beating two Sahwari men on June 7, 2019 in the Moroccan-controlled city of Smara. The Moroccan authorities justified the incident, but visual evidence refutes their narrative. Our investigation verifies the evidence and uncovers a pattern of human rights abuses that often go unchecked.

Producers and reporters: Sarah Cahlan and Elyse Samuels. Additional Reporting: Linah Mohammad. Animator: Atthar Mirza. Senior Producers: Nadine Ajaka and Glenn Kessler. Design: Nina Wescott.

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