Fact check: The strangest fakes of 2023
WEB DESK: There was a lot of fake news in 2023, especially about emotionally-charged events like wars. But there were also fakes that were simply bizarre. Here are DW’s picks for the strangest mis- and disinformation of the year.
- No, this is not Volodymyr Zelenskyy belly dancing
Both Moscow and Kyiv have been the subject of false information circulating online since Russia began its war of aggression against Ukraine in February 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in particular is often the target of smear campaigns. This video allegedly shows Zelenskyy belly dancing in a skin-tight golden costume. But DW research determined the video to be a deepfake that superimposed the president’s face on a dancer’s body.
- No, Sweden is not organizing a sex tournament
In July, “news” circulated worldwide that Sweden had declared sex a sport and was organizing a tournament. Many international media outlets also reported on it, including the Times of India, one of the country’s most respected newspapers. One report said Sweden wanted to organize a tournament in which participants would have sex with each other for up to six hours a day to see who was the best.
This claim was false, DW fact check research showed. Göteborgs-Posten, one of Sweden’s major daily newspapers, had reported that Dragan Bratic, the owner of several strip clubs in the country, had applied to have sex classified as a sport. However, the Swedish Sports Association rejected this application in May, he confirmed to DW.
- No, the viral photo of used condoms being cleaned and sold as new is not from Kenya
Along with dozens of photos of what appear to be used condoms, several Facebook posts earlier this year claimed that six students from Kenya had been arrested for cleaning used condoms and selling them as new.
But a reverse image search showed that the claim was false. However, according to a 2020 news report, almost 324,000 used condoms were indeed cleaned and resold — but in Vietnam, not Kenya. And not by six students, but rather by employees at a small factory.
- No, there is no X-ray image of a live cockroach inside a chest
In May 2023, various Facebook users wrote that a patient X-rayed in a Kenyan state hospital was found to have a live cockroach in his chest. But the image with the alleged evidence was photoshopped, a reverse image search showed. The original X-ray image was published on a radiology website — sans cockroach.
- No, chia seeds can’t cure diabetes
As more people get easy access to artificial intelligence, there have been an increasing number of videos in which AI-generated “doctors” give health tips. One such video, in which an AI doctor claims chia seeds can help control diabetes, recently went viral.
However, both the doctor and the claim are fake. According to studies, chia seeds can have a positive effect on health and also have anti-diabetic effects, but experts say they can neither control nor cure the illness.
- No, Joe Biden was not wearing a diaper
At 81 years of age, US President Joe Biden has faced repeated claims that he is too old to hold office. In June 2023, an alleged photo of him kneeling on the floor with a diaper peeking out of his trousers circulated in some countries. But a reverse image search shows that the photo was manipulated. While Biden did actually fall down at a US Air Force Academy ceremony that month, numerous videos and photos of the incident show no evidence of a diaper.
- No, this TikToker didn’t win a lawsuit over her non-consensual birth
Back in 2022, TikToker Kass Theaz made a video in which she claimed to be suing her parents for not getting her consent to bring her into the world. In another video from June 2022 she said she had won the lawsuit. And in November 2023 she claimed her parents now have to pay her $5,000 ($4, 540) in damages each month. That video now has over 3.5 million views.
Though comments under it show that many users believe her, Theaz’s TikTok profile clearly states that she is running a satire account.
- No, there is no evidence that an American plane lost in 1955 reappeared after 37 years
A viral Facebook post claimed that an airplane took off from New York in 1955, went missing, and landed again 37 years later in Miami, Florida. But research by the fact-checking team at French newswire AFP shows that there is no evidence of this ever happening. Not only do US authorities have no data showing that an airplane took off from New York and disappeared in 1955, the story was also originally published by a US tabloid known for its fictional content.
- No, the OceanGate submersible was not recovered empty
On June 18, five people set off to view the Titanic — which sank in 1912 — in a mini-submarine operated by the company OceanGate. But shortly after it was lowered into the sea, communications with the crew ceased, triggering a massive rescue operation that captured the world’s attention. An alleged screenshot of a CNN article claiming the submersible had been found empty went viral. But DW research shows that it was clearly a fake.
A closer look at the screenshot reveals that it does not mirror the news channel’s current design format. The alleged cover image also shows a submersible called “Cyclops 1” rather than the “Titan” submarine that was later found destroyed, and text in the article is also incorrect.
- No, Disney World did not remove Cinderella Castle
Fake news about Disney has been popular for years. In November, a website claimed the Disney World amusement park in Orlando, Florida, had torn down Cinderella’s famous pink castle in the course of a single night. This claim spread in a TikTok video that was viewed more than a million times.
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However, both the article and video are satire — as a glance at the website’s legal notice shows. And for anyone still in doubt, recent footage of the amusement park shows that the castle, the park’s landmark, still stands.