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Fact check: How to spot fake news ahead of EU elections

May 12, 2024

Ahead of the European Parliament elections in June, fake news is becoming increasingly prevalent online. DW Fact Check presents examples of how deepfakes, spoofing and the like are trying to mislead us.

Three images, one of a girl, one of a bar of chocolate, and one of a woman shaking Adolf Hitler's hands are marked with the word "fake"
None of this is real: An AI-generated image of a girl who looks like Marine Le Pen's niece, an advertisement for chocolate made with crickets and Ursula von der Leyen's alleged grandmother shaking hands with Adolf Hitler

Does Marine Le Pen have nieces we've never heard about?

Claim: Nieces of the French right-wing populist Marine Le Pen are campaigning for her party "Rassemblement National" (RN). 

DW fact checkFake. 

In April, users claiming to be nieces of Marine Le Pen posted videos on TikTok promoting her far-right National Rally party. 

But Amandine and Lena Marechal are not real. These purported nieces of the far-right politician were deepfakes, or manipulated videos, as was quickly reported in the French media and on the social media platform.

The makers of the videos used  artificial intelligence (AI)  to superimpose pictures of the faces of Marine Le Pen and her actual niece, Marion Marechal, onto images of other people. This created the illusion of younger family members, who could then proclaim to be "proud to be French" and admire their "aunt." 

A close-up image of Marine Le Pen below an AI-generated image of a young woman with a striking resemblance. The image is marked "fake."
With the help of artificial intelligence, the face of Marine Le Pen was superimposed onto images of young womenImage: TikTok

According to French media reports, the account @amandineeette had over 32,000 followers. It has since been deleted — just like the account @lena.marechal.lepen. It seems the two accounts were created to make the far-right appear more appealing to a younger audience ahead of the upcoming European elections.

"Cricket chocolate" thanks to new EU rules and regulations?

Claim: Whole crickets are processed in well-known brand chocolate - a new EU regulation makes it possible. 

DW fact check: Misleading.

In January 2023, a social media post suggesting that chocolate might soon be made with crickets caused quite a stir online. The image depicted what looked like a photo of a package of chocolate made by the popular German brand Ritter Sport. The packaging featured pictures of a cricket and two pieces of chocolate, and the German words "Ganze Grille," which translates into English as "whole cricket." 

After the stir, Ritter Sport announced that it was a joke and pointed to the hashtag #fakesorte that had been included in the post. A harmless gag by the marketing team, it reiterated.

But the gag was inspired by reality. That same month, the European Commission passed regulation 2023/5 that permits crickets to be used in foodstuffs in the EU.

This April, just two months before the European elections, the matter popped up again on Hungarian social media, repurposed to form the basis of a disinformation campaign about EU regulations permitting insect-based food ingredients.

This is just one example of how images taken out of context and misleading claims can be used to whip up distrust toward the European Union and its institutions.

Did Ursula von der Leyen's grandmother meet Adolf Hitler?

Claim: The grandmother of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was a supporter of Adolf Hitler.   

DW fact check: False.

Some posts have suggested European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has a family photo album containing a picture of her grandmother shaking hands with Adolf Hitler. That supposed picture, captioned "My Sweet Granny Didn't Wash Her Hand for a Month after This Precious Occasion," has been liked many times. 

A screenshot of a post on X, formerly Twitter, showing a historic photograph of a woman shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, claiming the woman is Ursula von der Leyen's grandmother. The image is marked "false"
The woman shaking hands with Adolf Hitler is not related to Ursula von der LeyenImage: X/Norman Finkelstein

It's a classic example of politically motivated fake news. The post went viral after political scientist and activist Norman Finkelstein picked it up and posted it on X (formerly Twitter), where he has nearly half a million followers.

The image suggests von der Leyen's grandparents were Nazi sympathizers. While the picture itself is real and historically correct, the woman in the photo is not von der Leyen's grandmother.

Fact-checkers have discovered that her name was Hildegard Zantop and she was a farmer in East Prussia. There is nothing to connect her to the European Commission president. 

The picture, taken at a Nazi rally in 1937, is archived in an East Prussia picture library. 

The fact that the name is spelled as "von der Leyne" in the post gives a first hint that it is a fake post. Finkelstein has described Ursula von der Leyen as "the Nazi princess" and "Frau Genocide." 

Spoofing in the German press

Claim: The Bild newspaper published an article with the headline "AfD top European candidate owes his eight children €82,784 in maintenance!".   

DW fact check: Fake.

In another example of fake news, an article that seemed to have been published on the website of the German tabloid daily Bild started circulating recently. It claimed that the   Alternative for Germany's (AfD) candidate for Europe, Maximilian Krah, owed his eight children over €80,000 ($86,226) in child support, which triggered outrage amid critics of the far-right party

A screenshot of a headline purportedly posted by Bild. The image is marked "fake"
Hackers created a fake Bild website

Several fact-checking sites reported that Bild had never published the article in question and explained that cybercriminals had created a fake website that imitated the original, in a practice called spoofing.

The online response to the article shows just how convincing the fake portal was. Countless users linked the article and left comments. But a closer look reveals clues that the site is fake.

The teaser at the top of the page, for example, translates to: "AfD's Maximilian Krah: Is he really the best man for Europe?" and does not match the headline of the article. A quick Google search will direct you to the real Bild report on Krah, which was published on April 24, 2024. The original article contains the same image as the screenshots posted on X.

Another recent example of spoofing was an article whose headline translates as "The Greens have lulled Germany to sleep," which appeared to have been published by the weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Screenshots of two online reports, one by the weekly magazine Spiegel, marked "real," and one by a fraudulent outlet made to look like Spiegel's website, marked "fake"
Here's a clue: Spiegel's official URL is spiegel.de, while the cloned website uses the URL spiegel.ltd

The article accused Germany's Greens  of impoverishing the German population with its policies combating climate change. A closer inspection shows the website on which the article was posted on is a clone of the actual Der Spiegel website. One clue is that the URL is spiegel.ltd instead of spiegel.de, and also the fact that the article is in the foreign politics section despite being about German politics.

Alexandre Alaphilippe. the executive director of the nonprofit EU DisinfoLab, which fights and raises awareness about disinformation in Europe, has warned that such "doppelganger campaigns," are likely to become more frequent.

He told press agencies that the operators of disinformation liked to test all "defense mechanisms" to find weak areas to infiltrate.

This article was originally written in German.

DW-Redakteur Jan D. Walter Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
Jan D. Walter Editor and reporter for national and international politics and member of DW's fact-checking team.