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Digital World

Fact check: How to spot fake quotes on social media?

Uta Steinwehr
June 5, 2024

Social media is often home to inspirational or political quotes from celebrities. But not all these statements are true. DW's fact-checking team explains what to watch out for.

Screenshot of posts with fake quote "The moon is more useful than the sun, since the moon gives us light at night when it's dark. The sun only gives us light during the day, when it's already light out." with pictures of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lauren Boebert
Even two US congresswomen have falsely been attributed to have said the moon is more useful than the sun: Lauren Boebert (left) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right)Image: Facebook

"Europe is being destroyed. The consequences of pointless aid for Ukraine." This quote has been attributed to Till Lindemann, lead singer of the German band Rammstein on social media. However, Lindemann never made such a statement, as the band's management confirmed to the German press agency DPA

This is just one example of a pattern to spread disinformation, with the popularity of a famous person used to polarize or influence people's opinions mainly on controversial political topics. Lindemann isn't the only celebrity used to spread anti-Ukrainian sentiments. Some German actors and international stars have been affected as well. Fake quote cards featuring a picture of the person in question were spread in German, mainly in the form of Facebook ads, before being taken down.

Post with photo of Till Lindemann and the false quote "Europe is being destroyed. The consequences of pointless aid for Ukraine."
Did Rammstein's lead singer Till Lindemann make an anti-Ukraine statement? No, this quote card is part of a Russian disinformation campaign

Germany's Interior Ministry has connected these incidents to the so-called Russian Doppelganger disinformation campaign uncovered in 2022. The operators set up fake websites mimicking those of different European media outlets to spread fake news and pro-Russian propaganda. 

According to the ministry, the people behind it have been using fake quotes attributed to celebrities as a new technique since November 2023, the German press agency reports.  

So, what can you do to debunk a fake quote?

Here are a few things to think about when you come across content that you suspect to be fake: Has the person said something similar in the past? Or does it come as a surprise, or maybe it is a complete U-turn to previous positions? 

This would be the case with Lindemann. In 2022, shortly after Russia started its war in Ukraine, the artist volunteered at Berlin's main station as Ukrainian refugees arrived. The band Rammstein also published a statement in support of the Ukrainian people which can still be found on their website.

If you want to verify a quote, first check the person's social media accounts — has the person shared something similar recently?

Look for the quote via search engines in combination with the name. If a famous person has said something controversial, news outlets would have reported on this. If you don't find anything, that's a clue that the quote might be made up. In that case, you might even find a fact check on it.

If you come across a picture quote on social media, read the comments underneath the post. Often, people have already called something out as disinformation and linked to a related article.

Be aware of bias and emotions

In the past weeks and months, different quote cards showing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the US Democratic Party, have circulated on social media. One of the posts on X, previously Twitter, has been viewed almost 500,000 times. 

According to the posts, the congresswoman allegedly said: "The moon is more useful (some versions: important) than the sun since the moon gives us light at night when it's dark. The sun only gives us light during the day, when it's already light out."

Seem a bit bizarre for a high-ranking politician? There is no evidence that Ocasio-Cortez has said this, as fact checks from news agency Reuters and snopes.com show. The congresswoman has been repeatedly targeted by fake news trying to discredit her. 

Ironically, the same statement has also been falsely attributedto Lauren Boebert, a US congresswoman for the Republicans, who is known for being an outspoken gun rights supporter. 

However absurd the statement, some people do seem to believe it to be true as reactions under the publications show. "And people will still vote for this ding dong!" or "If only she got the brain" are just two of the many comments referring to Ocasio-Cortez. "She's an embarrassment" and "What a total waste of good oxygen" referred to Boebert. 

When scrolling through social media, don't let emotions get the best of you. Most fake news is meant to do exactly that. Instead, pause and question if a quote can be true before sharing it.

And keep bias in mind. Every human being has a certain mindset, everyone has prejudices. People who publish disinformation make use of these prejudices. Take a step back and try to be neutral.

You could ask yourself: Who is sharing the quote, and what might the person's interest be?

Imitation of news website's layout

If a source and date is mentioned, where and when the person has allegedly said or written the statement, you could cross-check to see if you find the quote there.

Let's have a look at this example from Kenya, which has been shared multiple times on Facebook: A photo shows former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga walking together with President William Ruto. According to the quote, Odinga is willing to support Ruto for his reelection bid in 2027.

Screenshot of the fake quote attributed to Raila Odinga in the design used by the platform kenyans.co.ke
A case of spoofing: The news website kenyans.co.ke has never published this quote card featuring opposition leader Raila OdingaImage: Facebook

The screenshot looks like a post issued by the news platform kenyans.co.ke. The design resembles the one that the medium uses on social media for quote cards: the logo, the positions of the elements, and the character font seem to be authentic at first glance. 

But the quote card is fake and was not published by the website, as the platform itself has clarified in a statement, and the fact-checking organizations AfricaCheck and PesaCheck have pointed out as well.

This is a case of so-called media spoofing, when the person behind the content has imitated the design of news websites to bolster the fake's credibility. A cross-check with the news platform's social media accounts could have already given a clue that the graphic wasn't authentic. It was nowhere to be found on the page or via web-archiving tools.

Even the quote itself could have raised doubts about whether it's real or not. Odinga and Ruto are political rivals; in 2022, Odinga was the runner-up to Ruto in Kenya's presidential election. Odinga rejected the results. More than once since the vote, he has mobilized his supporters to protest. And now, a quote has allegedly endorsed Odinga for a new presidential bid? Three years ahead of the next scheduled election, this doesn't make sense.

There has been indeed some rapprochement between the two politicians since the larger protests a year ago. But given their previously tense relationship, it would have provoked many more reports, at least in Kenyan and regional media, if the quote was genuine.

The internet never forgets

Sometimes, misattributed quotes have circulated on the internet for years.

Take this example: In the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, people shared quote cards on various social media platforms including Instagram, LinkedIn and X showing US actress Angelina Jolie along with the text "Arabs and Muslims are not terrorists. The world should unite against Israel." 

Instagram post with the fake quote attributed to Angelina Jolie
For almost two decades, this quote has been falsely attributed to Angelina JolieImage: Instagram

This false statement attributed to Jolie has been circulating for almost two decades, as we can see in this post from 2014. The fact-checking website snopes.com even traced the quote back to as far as at least 2006.

However, there is no proof the renowned actress has said or published these exact sentences, neither in the current conflict nor earlier.

So be careful. Even if you come across a screenshot that looks like a post coming directly from a celeb's official social media account: screenshots can be manipulated and aren't final proof for something being real. 

Do you want to know more about how to recognize and verify fake content? Check out our articles and videos on this content and get to know DW's fact-checking team.

Etienne Gatanazi contributed to this report.