The life and death of a fake news story

Aside from thrilling sports fans all over the world, the FIFA World Cup was also a major opportunity for fake news publishers. Among the dozens of false stories created around the event, one stood out in its impact and consequences.  

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
The life and death of a fake news story - NewsMavens
Danijel Subašić, World Cup 2018, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

In Bosnia & Herzegovina, July 11 is a day of mourning -- this is the date when the mass slaughter of over 8.000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica began in 1995. This year, July 11 was also the day when Croatia and England played a semi-final in the World Cup. Inspired by the coincidence, the owner of the fake news portal “Lifestyle” published a statement ascribed to Croatia’s goalkeeper, Danijel Subašić, saying that he was dedicating the match to the mothers of Srebrenica.

The fake statement quickly travelled to social media. Within hours, it had become a meme. By the end of the day, it was news. In fact, it grew so big that it finally reached Subašić, who chose not to deny it when an interviewer put words he never said in his mouth. By that time, the story had already been debunked, yet Subašić’s silence on the issue launched another media frenzy -- an avalanche of articles about his “confirmation of the statement”.

Additional research finally uncovered the real author of the “statement” -- a young man from Tuzla, BiH, and the owner of “Lifestyle” and several other anonymous fake news portals.

The whole story is a fascinating account of the fake news “ecosystem” in which nothing is off limits -- not even the feelings of victims and survivors of war crimes -- as long as it can deliver Google AdSense dollars. But it's also a sad record of the utter lack of professionalism of “proper” media outlets. Many of them jump on seemingly newsworthy stories, without bothering to check a single thing about it before they make it into news.   

Details from the story:

  • The original article claimed that Subašić gave his statement during the official press conference of Croatia’s national team. Subašić wasn’t present at the conference, but that didn’t stop dozens of media from repeating the claim.
  • The same “source” published three other made-up statements on the same day, ascribing similar messages to the president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. Her cabinet denied that she ever gave such statements.
  • Three days later, after numerous attempts to get their comment on the matter, the Croatian Football Association finally also refuted the whole Subašić story.
  • After “Raskrinkavanje” published the whole report, the owner of “Lifestyle” portal shut the website down.
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