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Fact check: No Putin tattoo sessions in German hospice

September 15, 2022

A strange video is spreading on Telegram and Twitter: Hospice residents in Germany are allegedly getting tattoos of Putin to take him to his death as "living voodoo dolls." The whole thing is a fake.

Screenshots from the fake DW video: Compilation from older videos
Who would immortalize Putin on their body?Image: Quelle: Screenshots Twitter/Telegram10

An old man with a beard and glasses, wearing a hat, is sitting in his armchair looking at photos. He is introduced in the video as "Horst Bauer." Then he is shown inking tattoos in his colorfully decorated studio. In between are sequences of a German hospice and its alleged residents — who are getting free tattoos of Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lavrov and other Russian politicians. Bizarre? Yes, and it is just as ridiculous as it sounds.

This is exactly what is claimed in an English-language video that is currently circulating on Telegram (archived here) and Twitter (archived here), which has already been viewed tens of thousands of times. The 1-minute clip is designed in the style of a DW video and is meant to give the impression that it's a production of Germany's foreign broadcaster. In fact, the video is a fake — and a particularly absurd one.

Claim: Hospice residents are allegedly getting tattoos of Russian politicians to "take Russian leaders Putin, Medvedev, Shoigu, Lavrov, and Kadyrov to their deaths as living voodoo dolls."

DW Fact check: False

The content of the video is complete fiction, it does not come from DW. It was compiled using several older videos from different sources.

For example, one sequence (starting at 0:20) — as DW was able to discover using a reverse image search — does not show a hospice resident, rather a record-holder from the Guinness Book of Records: Jack Reynolds from Derbyshire, UK, who got a tattoo in 2016 at the age of 104, making him the oldest known tattooed person. Reynolds died in 2020 and is therefore incapable of being a resident of the German hospice in Dülmen as mentioned in the video.

Hospice in Dülmen reports the incident

The hospice only learned of the video after a DW inquiry and was appalled: "This is targeted misinformation," says Stephan Chilla, chairman of the Holy Spirit Foundation in Dülmen, the sponsoring organization of the Anna Katharina Hospice.

"At no time have hospice residents gotten tattoos on our premises, this is absurd." The video reflects "endless insolence and disrespect toward both our residents and our staff." The Holy Spirit Foundation filed a criminal complaint with the police against unknown persons.

In fact, the video sequences showing the Anna Katharina Hospice in Dülmen come from a video from 2017 in which the facility is presented. It therefore also by no means reflects current filming in the hospice.

The images of the alleged tattoo artist "Horst Bauer" are also old. And that person is not "Horst Bauer," but rather the well-known tattoo artist Doc Price from Plymouth in England. According to himself, he is the oldest tattoo artist in the world.

When researching the sequences used, after a longer search using search terms such as "old tattoo artist" on Youtube, we come across a documentary from May 2021 that shows Price in his tattoo studio. We quickly recognized many sections from this in the fake DW video.

The video distributed on Telegram and Twitter is therefore a colorful remix of older videos, and none of the claims made in it are tenable.

Deceptively genuine — with minor flaws

Not only in terms of content, but also in the presentation of the video are some conspicuous features. Although the fake video strongly resembles real DW videos, when you look closely you can see errors made while copying the DW video template; for example, the four-line text and the linguistic style do not match the DW style guide. The placement of the text and the DW logo in the video also deviate slightly, with both positioned a bit too far to the left. The locating mark "Germany, Dülmen" at the beginning of the video is in an incorrect font, and the design and format also deviates from DW, as our comparison in the screenshot shows.

Screenshot of fake video
The fake video does not jive with DW font and design

Also noticeable are a great many grammatical and spelling errors; for example, the English-language video text uses the German word "Hospiz" instead of the English word "hospice."

So there are plenty of details that formally expose the video as a fake. Upon first impression, however, many social media users thought the video was genuine and contacted DW with questions about it.

Spoofing as new form of disinformation

This is not the first time a fake DW video has circulated on the internet: In June, a Japanese-language Twitter account that focuses on the war in Ukraine had shared an alleged DW video (archived here) reporting on an apparent criminal refugee from Ukraine. Our fact check showed: The story is made up, the video is a fake — an additional hoax.

Screenshot fake DW video
The first fake DW video DW became aware of reported on a fictional criminal case

This new fake, however, seems to be much more successful: A Telegram post with the hospice video reached more than 25,000 users, plus many more retweets and shares on other platforms. It's a spoof — a hoax intended to be funny.

Many hoaxes are not funny at all. Among other outlets, the BBC has also been a victim of spoofing in the past, when a video showing BBC credentials was published on the missile attack on the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk. And a series of pro-Russian fake websites that resembled German news portals recently caused a stir in Germany.

Experts see clear evidence that the tracks of the fake productions lead to Russia. Josephine Lukito, a professor at the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin, sees "professional structures" behind the fake videos. Much of pro-Russian disinformation could be attributed to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll factory that has been active since 2012.

"The long-term goal of this disinformation emanating from Russia is to sow distrust in the media system," Lukito told DW in an interview. In the process, he said, the credibility of news media is also deliberately exploited for other purposes. This is a relatively new phenomenon of disinformation, in which supposedly serious news is published under a false name.

Experts warn of an intensified Russian disinformation campaign in the fall in light of the worsening energy crisis.

So, this might not be the last fake DW video circulating the web.

How to see through Russia's war propaganda

This article was originally written in German.

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