On September 19, five days before Germany’s parliamentary election, a regional chapter of the anti-migrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) shared a graphic image on Facebook recalling the mass sexual assaults in Germany on New Year’s Eve in 2016. The image accompanied a message urging supporters to go and vote.
However, the image was a fake. It was falsified in multiple ways and taken from an extremist white supremacist source with the intent to manipulate voter perception.
The image was shared by the Facebook account of the AfD’s Hochsaurland chapter. It showed a young woman surrounded by men, who happen to have a darker skin tone, together with the text:
“Do you remember…? New Year’s Eve…! #GoVote.”
The mention of New Year’s Eve refers to the widely-reported spree of sexual assaults in German cities, notably Cologne, on New Year’s Eve 2015–16.
The AfD Kreisverband Regensburg reposted the meme with even more inflammatory language calling for:
“An end to violence and mass rape of women in Germany.”
However, a Google reverse image search of the photo reveals that it is a fake on multiple levels. The background to the shot is taken from this footage of CBS News journalist Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted on Tahrir Square in Cairo on February 11, 2011.
The image has been photoshopped: Logan’s head has been replaced with that of another woman with blond-hair. To identify her, @DFRLab appealed to #DigitalSherlocks on Twitter for help. One user quickly identified her as British glamor model Danica Thrall.
A second pinpointed the source of the image as a photoshoot for men’s magazine FHM, dated to December 6, 2010.
A screenshot of the image confirms the match.
The meme shared by the AfD accounts thus falsifies the photo, its location (Cairo not Germany) and the date (February 2011 not New Year’s Eve). This is a many-leveled fake designed to stir up anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiment. AfD’s use of it just before the election appears aimed at using that sentiment to galvanize voters.
To indicate a possible source, another Twitter user shared a URL leading to an anti-Semitic site which featured the same post, with a different text, dated February 9.
The site is headlined with the anti-semetic phrase:
“Jewish subversion of Europe — Subversion of Europe by ZOG and Jewish organizations — White European genocide.”
The acronym “ZOG” stands for “Zionist Occupied Government,” a term used by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. The link between Zionists and Muslim demonstrators is not made clear.
A reverse search of the image found one earlier hit titled “The planned genocide of white Europeans,” with no text.
The link to which it leads was not available as of September 22, 2017, but the URL (visible in the bottom left of this image) includes the date-stamp 2015/09, indicating that this image is two years old, and firmly embedded in the far-right and anti-Semitic community.
This image is firmly embedded in the far-right and anti-Semitic community.
Having identified the fake, we looked for further instances of its use online. We found that, despite the multi-level nature of the fake and its extremist origin, it was posted by several of AfD’s subgroups and supporters, including possible “bot” automated accounts.
On September 9, it was tweeted twice by an account called @haraldvogel80, which was created the day before and exclusively posts pro-AfD content.
The first post was a string of hashtags; the second replicated the wording of three other tweets, suggesting that it is part of a coordinated meme campaign.
AfD Kreisverband Harz posted the graphic on September 12.
On September 16, it was posted by another newly-created, pro-AfD account, @einfachich (created on September 12). As of September 22, the account only had 27 followers, but its post was retweeted 20 times and liked 30 times, suggesting, again, that it was part of a coordinated network. It also retweets an account called @darksideofkek, a far-right account which @DFRLab has identified as a driver of automated, “bot” traffic.
On September 17, it was posted by a Facebook group called “Members’ initiative: AfD base forum”, urging an end to the “welcome culture” and “multicultural madness”.
This post was shared by 153 other accounts (at the time we published this story), including the AfD chapter in Regensburg.
The same day, former AfD candidate Thomas Matzke tweeted it, and was retweeted 80 times.
We asked the AfD to comment on their use of the fake. They had not replied by the time of publication.
Overall, the image saw a modest degree of traffic. The highest-scoring posts managed dozens or hundreds of shares, although others, especially those used in coordinated Twitter campaigns, had minimal impact. It was, however, repeatedly shared by AfD representatives, not just their supporters.
The use of this multiple fake highlights the AfD’s focus on galvanizing anti-migrant and anti-Islam supporters ahead of Sunday’s vote. It also shows the effort to which far-right groups can go to produce eyecatching fakes.