CNN conspiracy theory spreads in the Balkans

A theory conspiracy accusing western media of staging coverage of the Syrian war gained significant traction in the Balkans after a Russian website began spreading the rumor.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
CNN conspiracy theory spreads in the Balkans - NewsMavens
Girl rescued by 3 different men, Facebook.

Why this story matters:

In August 2016, two barrel-bombs were dropped on a funeral wake in Aleppo, held for children who were killed in previous attacks. Numerous images of rescue efforts were published in the next few days, including a few that show the same little girl being carried by three different men. Almost two years later, a collage of the images appeared on a private Facebook profile with a caption reading:

"Syria's "chemical weapon attack". The same girl saved three times. That's how CNN does it." 

It was an allusion to a two-year old conspiracy theory about CNN using and recycling actors to stage scenes of war attrocities in Syria. The Facebook post was picked up by Serbian portals, who found the theory convincing:

"The Western media machinery is actively cooperating with Syrian terrorists, using the same fake news template that they used to demonize the Serbs, and now it's Assad, Syria and Russia's turn," one of them writes.

Ironically, none of CNN's accusers have done their own fact-checking. Otherwise they would have found out that CNN has never used these images to report on anything else than the event where they were taken: the barrel-bomb attack on a funeral wake in Aleppo in August 2016.

Details from the story:

  • The story of "staged photos" first appeared on the website "Русская Весна" (Russian spring), a website which describes itself as a source of "operative information about the events in Russia, New Russia, Ukraine, Syria and the world". It was then republished by “Russia Insider” which, ironically, calls itself "Fake news fighters".
  • CNN wasn't specifically mentioned in those articles, but it was connected to the story via social media posts which followed soon after the articles were published.
  • The story was quickly debunked by several media outlets, but it continued to spread. 
  • On the eve of US, UK and France's airstrikes on Syria, the translated version got picked up by several portals in the Balkans.
  • The main story was adapted to more recent events, so this time it was presented as a fake account of the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta.
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