Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, was followed by an information war — replete with a large-scale disinformation campaign, targeted propaganda and conspiracy theories, especially on social media. Beyond that, NewsGuard, a US journalism and technology outfit that has been fighting disinformation for years, identified 311 websites publishing pro-Russian disinformation to justify Moscow's war of aggression against its neighbor.
So it is no wonder that DW's fact-checking team spent most of its energy in 2022 dealing with false claims surrounding the war in Ukraine. But our team also got to the bottom of other odd stories on topics related to health, sports and the environment. Here are 10 of the most blatant and unusual.
No, there were no 'living corpses' in Bucha
Images of dead civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, near Kyiv, horrified the world in early April. Hundreds of dead bodies lay strewn across the streets of the city in late March after Russian forces withdrew.
Ukrainian authorities spoke of a "deliberate massacre" carried out by Russian soldiers. Russia countered with its own accusation, claiming that videos from Bucha were a "staged propaganda production." An accompanying narrative soon appeared on social media, with claims that the victims were in fact actors, and one video purported to prove that some could be seen moving.
But a DW high-resolution image analysis of the video supposedly showing "living corpses" found that the impression of a body moving its hand was caused by a raindrop on the window of the moving vehicle from which the footage was shot.
Independent digital forensics experts were also able to confirm this. Moreover, research by the New York Times found that satellite imagery from the US company Maxar showed that bodies had been littering the streets of Bucha since March 19, and in some cases were even seen as early as March 11.
These images clearly refuted Russian claims that the bodies only began appearing after its troops had abandoned the city on March 30. The steadfast denial of supposed war crimes and labeling of evidence as fake has become a proven strategy in Russia's war on Ukraine.
No, the 'Ghost of Kyiv' was not an exceptional Ukrainian fighter pilot
After Ukrainians got over the initial shock of the Russian invasion, they sought comfort in reports of Ukrainian military successes. Among these, stories of the so-called "Ghost of Kyiv" — a mysterious fighter who supposedly destroyed 40 Russian jets singlehandedly — became increasingly popular. Many media users, and even former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, shared videos and photos apparently showing the "Ghost of Kyiv." Most turned out to be fake.
Especially odd was a manipulated photo of the supposed Ukrainian pilot that was in fact an Argentinian lawyer based in Buenos Aires. Ultimately, even the Ukrainian Air Force admitted that the "Ghost of Kyiv" was "a myth created by the Ukrainians" and "a composite of the pilots of the country's 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade."
No, 'Ukrainian Nazis' did not riot at the World Cup in Qatar
In keeping with the supposed "denazification" of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly put forth as justification for his invasion, a number of photos and videos claiming to show "Ukrainian Nazis" — most recently at the World Cup in Qatar — have popped up online. Recently, a video bearing the logo and design of the news outlet Al Jazeera claimed three drunken Ukrainians had been arrested in Doha after they displayed Nazi symbols and gave Nazi salutes.
Both Al Jazeera, as the purported producer of the video, and DW's fact-checking team were able to prove that the video in question was a fake. The presence of Ukrainian men in Qatar, they found, was entirely implausible, since men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently not allowed to leave the country. Furthermore, Ukraine didn't even qualify for the tournament.
The video offers no official details on the supposed arrest and consists solely of archive footage and images with no direct connection to the story being pushed. For instance, police in the video were not wearing the uniforms that Qatar's Interior Ministry says are in use for the international soccer event.
Like Al Jazeera, other international media outlets such as the BBC, CNN, and DW have all had their names and logos appropriated for pictures, screenshots, videos and social media posts pushing pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian, and anti-Western narratives.
No, a German hospice did not offer Putin tattoos to dying patients
Tattoos of President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov or other Russian politicians applied to dying patients as a bizarre, voodoo-like way to drag the leaders into death? That is exactly what was supposedly happening at a German hospice facility, according to an English-language video designed to look very similar to a DW report.
But the story was entirely fabricated and the video a fake created from a collage of several old videos, as the DW fact-check team was quickly able to prove. Authorities at the Dülmen Hospice featured in the fake video (seen in footage from 2017) told DW the claim that residents were getting such tattoos was "absurd," calling it "targeted disinformation."
A number of grammar mistakes and graphic inconsistencies also make clear that the supposedly DW-branded video in question was fake.
No, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun did not appear on the cover of 'Vogue' magazine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a Nazi — that is the main narrative of disinformation surrounding Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. After the US magazine Vogue featured Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska on its cover in late July and published several pictures of her and her husband Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a feature story, a social media post began making the rounds and was shared thousands of times. It suggested that in 1939, the fashion and lifestyle magazine had featured a photo shoot with none other than Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun.
That is not true. The photo of Hitler and Braun that was displayed in the post never appeared in Vogue, nor on its cover. Not one of the 24 issues from Vogue's 1939 publicly accessible archive showed the couple. A spokesperson for Vogue confirmed to DW that none of the issues in 1939, nor in any other year, featured such photos.
Moreover, a reverse image search showed that the image of Hitler and Braun used in the photo collage had been doctored: In the original, Johanna Morell, the wife of Hitler's personal doctor, could be seen between the two.
No, Europe is not experiencing medieval conditions as a result of the energy crisis
"It's time to talk about bacteria, scabies, fleas and lice (…) because supposedly enlightened Europe is apparently returning to the Middle Ages, when people didn't wash themselves," claimed moderator Dmitry Kiselyov on Russian state media at the end of April.
His declaration was based on an announcement by German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who suggested citizens should save energy in the bathroom; as well as from German Federal Network Agency boss Klaus Müller, who called for compatriots to take fewer hot showers. According to Kiselyov, Europe's hatred of Russia and its gas had driven the continent to neglect hygiene, much like in the Middle Ages. This, he suggested, would lead to problems with parasites.
Still, eight months later there are no signs that the shocking prediction has come true: Neither Germany's national healthcare authorities nor the European Center for Preventable Disease and Control (ECDC) have seen significant rises in mites, lice, or fleas.
Yes, industrial countries are partially responsible for climate catastrophes like flooding in Pakistan
The worst flood in Pakistani history affected millions in the summer of 2022. This begged the question of who exactly is responsible for natural catastrophes that have been made more severe by climate change. Many Pakistanis blame Western industrialized countries because they have contributed so much to climate change. Is that true?
Global warming is largely caused by greenhouse gas emissions, which have risen sharply due to the burning of fossil fuels for power. Studies have shown that the US and Europe are responsible for roughly 53% of cumulative territorial (1850-1969) and consumer-based CO2 emissions (1970-2015) worldwide. Those emissions are distributed into the atmosphere, ultimately affecting countries — like Pakistan — that produce hardly any emissions, forcing them to suffer the massive impact of global climate change.
Beware, 'herbal abortions' are unsafe
The US Supreme Court's decision to overturn abortion rights cleared the way for nearly half the states in the country to ban the medical procedure. Faced with potential bans, claims that abortion can be induced by consuming herbs like parsley or fruit like papaya proliferated. But can such plant-based remedies really induce an abortion? And how safe are such measures?
DW's fact-check team found that very few scientific studies have been conducted on the issue. Some women drink teas made of various plants and herbs, eat them, or ingest them vaginally or intravenously — all of which, experts told DW, are potentially dangerous, as their actual effects are incalculable. Sometimes an abortion can in fact be induced by consuming herbs, but it is extremely risky. A safe "herbal abortion" as propagated on social media, does not exist.
No, monkey pox is not the result of coronavirus vaccines
From changing human DNA to making women infertile — in 2022 another fake news conspiracy about the supposed side effects of coronavirus vaccines began making the rounds. That is when people began claiming online that the disease monkey pox could be traced to the AstraZeneca coronavirus vector vaccine, which contains attenuated adenovirus from chimpanzees as a carrier for the DNA of the coronavirus spike protein.
That is incorrect: Monkey pox and chimpanzee adenoviruses have nothing to do with one another. The name monkey pox derives from the fact that the illness was first seen in a colony of monkeys, despite actually originating among rodents, as scientists explained to the DW fact-check team. Moreover, pox viruses are a different class of virus from adenoviruses, such as the chimpanzee adenoviruses that are the basis for the vector vaccine.
Incidentally, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently decided to rename monkey pox to avoid the stigmatization of victims. Now the virus is simply known as Mpox.
Yes, Qatar 'bought' World Cup fans in 2022
After Qatar was selected to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, years were spent discussing the number of migrant workers who died building infrastructure for the tournament in the Gulf state.
Massive human rights abuses and a lack of press freedom in the emirate were also the topic of discussion in the run-up to the tournament. Then, shortly before the event got underway, many international media outlets accused Qatar of having "bought" fans by covering the cost of their flights, hotel rooms, and game tickets. In return, went the claim, fans agreed to promote the World Cup on social media.
Qatar has said that it did indeed invite several hundred select fans to the tournament, paying their flights and accommodation expenses as part of the so-called "Qatar Fan Leader Network." Qatar's Supreme Committee (SC), which was responsible for organizing the tournament, confirmed this to DW. Nevertheless, in a statement, the SC denied that it expected any favors from fans in return.
In fact, at least some of those invited to Qatar contractually agreed to abide by a "code of conduct" during the World Cup in Qatar and to "support" the event by 'liking and sharing" posts about it on social media.
Reacting to critical media reports, the SC sent a mail to Fan Leader Network participants announcing that pocket money allowances would be discontinued, according to research by "Sportschau," a weekly sports show on German public broadcaster ARD.
This article was translated from German by Jon Shelton.