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Fact check: Far right claim media inflating size of protests

January 22, 2024

Far-right politicians and social media users have tried to sow distrust in the media by claiming that pictures of recent protests in Germany were manipulated. DW fact-checks these claims.

A massive crowd seen gathered under the motto 'Stand Up Hamburg!' on Friday
More than a million people across Germany have demonstrated against far-right extremism in recent daysImage: epd-bild/picture alliance

It was a weekend of demonstrations across Germany: an estimated 1.4 million people went to the streets in about 100 different locations to protest against far-right extremism and, in particular, against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party

The protests were sparked after investigative outlet Correctiv revealed that members of the AfD had taken part in a secret meeting in the city of Potsdam in November to discuss expelling millions of foreigners and "non-assimilated" citizens from Germany.

According to Correctiv, the meeting was also attended by neo-Nazis, sympathetic business people and also two members of Germany's main opposition party, the center-right CDU.

The revelations hit a nerve in Germany and brought back painful memories of the country's dark past. The meeting in November happened only a few kilometers away from the villa where the Nazis discussed the "final solution" for the extermination of European Jews in 1942

Weekend protests were accompanied by a flurry of information online and on social media, with users sharing what they had experienced at demonstrations across the country.

But, as so often happens in these kinds of situations, there were also several instances of disinformation, especially from far-right politicians and internet users who questioned the number of people attending the rallies. 

Here are three examples of disinformation tied to Germany's recent protests.

Screenshot of an AfD social media post challenging media outlets to fact-check a news claim about the size of a protest in Hamburg
Far-right politicians and commentators posted pictures challenging the number of protesters in Hamburg

Was Hamburg so full that people stood in the Alster River? 

Claim: "The protest in Hamburg was so overcrowded according to [German public broadcaster] ZDF, people even had to stand in the Alster," said far-right politician Björn Höcke on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, referring to the body of water that runs through the famous northern German city. The tweet (archived here) has more than 400,000 views as of Monday afternoon.

DW fact check: False 

Höcke, the AfD's leader in the federal state of Thuringia, criticized German media on X for publishing images of a protest in Hamburg that he claimed had been manipulated to make the crowd look bigger. 

Höcke has been described as being particularly radical, and in 2019, a German court ruled that it is not illegal to describe him as a "fascist." 

Other far-right users juxtaposed two images from the Hamburg protest, one published by the city government (archived here) and the other by ZDF (archived here). The Alster River can be seen in the first image but not in the second.   

With this juxtaposition, users (archived here) purported to show that the number of attendees had been manipulated. But an analysis of the two images can help to understand that they show two perspectives of the same place. 

The picture posted by the local government is taken from a higher position, which allows more of the city to be seen, including the Alster. The picture used by ZDF was taken from a lower position with large numbers of people obstructing the view of the Alster. 

Users on X (archived here) were also quick to explain these different perspectives and offer additional context. 

This animation clearly illustrates the point. 

Moreover, German press agency dpa has responded to Höcke by noting that it had taken the photo used by ZDF, adding that it had not been manipulated (archived here).

This was only one of several similar examples in which social media users, especially AfD sympathizers, shared pictures they claimed had been doctored to make crowds appear larger.

A screenshot of an ad looking for extra 'demonstrators' for filming
Advertisement seeking extra 'demonstrators' for a video recording

Did paid extras take part in the protests? 

Claim: This job advertisement offering cash for extras to play "demonstrators" in a video recording (post archived here) was shared on social media, suggesting people had been hired to attend recent demonstrations. 

DW fact check: False 

According to the ad, participants had to be between 18 and 35 years old and would be paid €60 ($65) for their time. 

It added that extras didn't have to memorize anything because it's "more about the effect in the background, so that the actual demonstration looks a bit fuller."

However, the job ad seems to have been published in 2022, not this year. The page's source code, which can be seen by right-clicking the page and choosing "view page source," says, "date published: 2022-10-13."

An advanced Google search limiting results to before 2024 also reveals the 2022 ad.

A closer look at the portal that originally published the advertisement also offers some clues as to the accuracy of what is currently circulating. The company is called JOBWRK, and the imprint and general terms and conditions reveal it to be an online job exchange for professionals in fields like acting, dancing and singing.

The page was modified on January 22 of this year and now includes the following clarification: "This advertisement was published on 13/10/2022 with a closing date for applications on 18/10/2022 and is in no way connected to the demonstrations in Hamburg on 19/01/2024."

The company's managing director, Andreas Niederwipper, also confirmed in a written statement to DW that the ad was taken out of context and is "far removed from any real protests/demonstrations."

The probable goal behind the decontextualized use of the ad was to sow distrust regarding the number and the motivations of those attending the protests against the far right.

A photo of an extremely crowded Copacabana Beach in Brazil purporting to show an anti-far-right demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Claims of Brazilians protesting the German far right were likely a satirical comment on the scope of recent demonstrations

Were there also protests against the far right in Brazil? 

Claim: A commentator, who described himself as "a conservative," took to X to publish this photo of a jam-packed Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the following caption: "There were even demonstrations against the AfD on the Copacabana! Weren't there?" (post archived here)

DW fact check: Misleading 

There is no indication that the famous Brazilian beach was full of people protesting against the German far right. 

If such protests had actually taken place in Brazil, they would have been widely reported by credible news organizations, including DW. The DW fact-checking team has not found any such articles. 

Additionally, a reverse image search, for example on TinEye, provides clues about the possible origin of the photo.

Several media outlets, including British newspaper The Guardian and US newspaper the Los Angeles Times, published this picture or very similar ones, to illustrate a visit by Pope Francis to Brazil in 2013.

This means the image was taken out of context. 

One possible intention, based on social media comments published under this and other posts, was to ironically exaggerate the importance of the protests in Germany and to make fun of those who attended. 

Silja Thoms and Joscha Weber contributed to this report.