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Fake Trevor Noah quote spreads internationally as anti-migrant violence spikes in South Africa

Fabricated quote made its way from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States as news outlets and social media influencers share it with no attempt at attribution

@DFRLab
@DFRLab
Sep 9, 2019 · 8 min read
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(Source: @disinformediain/DFRLab)

As anti-migrant violence spread across South Africa the week of September 2, 2019, a quote attributed to comedian Trevor Noah fomenting anger toward white South Africans went viral, spreading across Sub-Saharan Africa to right-wing American media. The quote, however, is fake.

The forged quote, which implied that black South Africans and African migrants should join together and direct their anger toward whites, began circulating in earnest on September 3, though its origins can be traced back to at least February 2017. Multiple African media outlets republished the quote as fact, and far-right online personalities in the United States latched onto it as evidence that Noah is anti-white, with the quote eventually landing on a Trump campaign senior advisor’s Twitter feed.

Noah’s publicist, Jill Fritzo, confirmed the alleged quote is not authentic. “This is fake,” she said in a statement to the DFRLab.

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One version of the fake quote as seen on Twitter. (Source: @LovenessPearl/archive)

The fake quote is circulating in several forms, generally including a promotional image of Noah, alongside the quote itself:

There are about 2.3 million immigrants living in South Africa, this number includes other Africans, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indians, middle easterners and Europeans who are not born in SA. out of this number, only 1.6 million are Africans. The 1.6 MILLION Africans mostly run small shops, vending, service industries, etc. They may lay claim to less than 0.00001% of wealth in SA.

Whites in South Africa makes up about 8.7% of the population and controls over 85% wealth. Though there are increases in black CEOs and managers, these are mere servants and just a optical presentations. There are about 6000 European families who own over 85% of agricultural lands in south Africa. So when I hear south Africans claiming that other Africans are competing with them on dwindling/scarce resources, I say that your anger and outrage is misplaced. African immigrants don’t own lands, don’t run companies, don’t operate trophy hunting companies, do not ship out capital to European banks.

Yours is a misplaced anger, prejudice and xenophobia built up out of inferiority complex created by decades of apartheid and oppression. I don’t see fellow African as a competitor but a fellow compatriot who is struggling to feed his family and have some comfort in this short life-time. If you feel undeserved in wealth distribution, please research again who controls that wealth and it has nothing to do with some Nigerian, Zimbabwean or Mozambican working in a restaurant or Ethiopian running a small shop, or a Ghanaian mechanic working hard in the sun. Share for spirit of *Ubuntu*

The quote is suspicious on a number of levels. For example, multiple versions of the story alleged that the quote originated on The Daily Show in February 2017. If this were the case, the quote would essentially be a transcript of spoken English, yet it lacks the hallmarks of spoken English, and from the opening line contains run-on sentences that do not flow naturally as would something spoken aloud. It also contains basic grammatical mistakes suggestive of someone who does not speak or write English well:

“I don’t see fellow African as a competitor”

“Whites in South Africa makes up about 8.7% of the population and controls over 85% wealth”

“just a optical presentations”

Additionally, the text varies from version to version. Some copies of the alleged quote end on the sentence about the Ghanaian mechanic and a request to share it. Others, meanwhile, leave out the request to share it, and include a longer ending that concludes, “Base your hate on facts, not inferiority complex. That’s all — Trevor Noah.”

While its true origins remain murky, a version of the fake quote can be traced back to at least early 2017, when a Nigerian-based site called Happenings in Nigeria posted a story called “SA Trevor Noah breaks silence on xenophobic attacks on Nigerians” on February 20 of that year. “The increasing incessant xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa has attracted wide condemnation from prominent South Africans, who see the unwarranted killings as spiteful and illegal,” they wrote, before leading into the text of the fake quote. The article made no attempt to cite any sources, merely attributing the quote to Noah.

A few days later, on March 1, it was picked up by Malawi’s Maravi Post, which claimed Noah had made the quote on his show in the past week. “South African celebrated comedian and television host of The Today Show [sic] on Comedy Central has a sharp message to his fellow South Africans who are in a violent rampage against their fellow black African immigrants,” they wrote. The story does not appear to have gained much traction; the Maravi Post’s tweet of the story received zero retweets or likes after it was published.

The fake quote remained dormant for approximately two and half years, when it reemerged earlier this week as South Africa grappled with a string of xenophobic attacks against Nigerian migrants, which in turn led to protests by Nigerians and other Africans against South African businesses and embassies across the continent.

On September 2, a Nigerian Twitter account, @tommybellyy, posted a screenshot of the fake quote, alongside the remark, “Look at one South African that has sense #Xenophobia.” Despite the account having less than 300 followers, the tweet gained traction, with 549 retweets and 757 likes at the time of writing.

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A Nigerian Twitter account posted the fake quote on September 2, tagging it “#Xenophobia.” (Source: @tommybellyy/archive)

The following day, the fake quote picked up speed when the verified account for Nigerian singer Aramide posted a different screenshot with the same quote at 7:32 a.m. EDT. “He said it all,” she wrote. “Complete misplaced anger. Africans are not foreigners in Africa!!! #SayNoToXenophobia.” Her post was retweeted more than 1,600 times and liked more than 3,200 times.

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The verified account for Nigerian singer Aramide picked up the fake quote on September 3. (Source: @AramideMusic/archive)

Approximately three hours later, science fiction writer Nnedi Okarafor tweeted the same screenshot, commenting “Trevor Noah. On point.” Her tweet received more than 500 retweets and 1,300 likes.

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Science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor shares the fake quote. (Source: @nnedi/archive)

Almost immediately, some of Okorafor’s followers questioned the veracity of the quote. “I’m relieved that some source I could trust is sharing this screenshot of words allegedly @Trevornoah’s,” wrote Ubok Akpan. “But may I ask, please through which channel did he share it? I’ve looked through his official accounts and didnt [sic] find. It’s equally important we know he said those.” Another user, LIBGamer, replied, “Is this really from him or s9meone [sic] pretending to be him? If it’s him where did he post this.”

While these conversations played out on Twitter, the fake quote started to appear in numerous online news sources across Africa. A commentary in the Zambian Observer, for example, wrote approvingly of it, adding, “WHAT TREVOR SAID!” Similarly, the story was picked up by the Cameroon News Agency, which claimed Noah’s “sharp message” originated from “an episode of his show on Comedy Central.” Kenya’s Global News embedded a video from the show, implying the video was the source of the quote, despite the fact that the video was on an unrelated topic.

Meanwhile, a writer at Online Nigeria quipped, “A seeming rational South African has blasted his fellow South Africans who have resorted to killing of other Africans in their country, condemning them over their misplaced anger.” Another Nigerian site, celebrity news service Nollywood Alive, noted that Nigerians were praising Noah for his statement.

Back in South Africa, the alleged quote made the rounds partially thanks to CapeTalk AM radio, which quoted it online as part of a broader discussion on xenophobia. It was also shared by TalkRadio 702 on Facebook, where it has approximately 275,000 followers.

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Radio station TalkRadio 702 used the quote as a part of a story on Somalia. (Source: 702/archive)

Right-wing media gets involved

By September 4, the fake quote made its way across the Atlantic to the United States. Right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec tweeted a copy of it to his 530,000 followers and remarked, “South Africans and Nigerian migrants are fighting in the streets but Trevor Noah found a way to blame white people.”

At the time of writing, Posobiec’s post has been retweeted more than 500 times and liked nearly 1,000 times. Among those retweeted it were Afrikaans singer Jay du Plessis, who has been referred to as an “Apartheid apologist” by social media users. In his tweet, he complained, “Whilst living off all the money he made from these White folk paying to see him… Nice now that he doesn’t need SA whites’ money anymore he can really say what he has always thought about us. We are essentially the problem in everything that is broken in SA. Nice Treva…”

Concurrently, in the United States, it was also retweeted by conservative blogger Gateway Pundit, Christian conservative activist Ned Ryun, and senior Trump campaign advisor Katrina Pierson, who added, “Because… of course.”

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Trump campaign advisor Katrina Pierson tweeted the fake quote. (Source: @KatrinaPierson/archive)

Beyond social media, the fake quote was picked up by far-right conspiracy site InfoWars. “Rest assured, Comedy Central host Trevor Noah knows who is really to blame for this latest explosion black-on-black violence — white people,” they wrote. “Why? Because colonialism…or something.”

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Conspiracy website InfoWars used the fake quote in an article. (Source: InfoWars/archive)

As can be seen in the above examples, the fake quote has taken on a life of its own, given to multiple interpretations depending on the country and local politics. Among Nigerian sources, it is being spun as a sign of migrant solidarity, while American right-wing media has embraced it as yet another racial wedge. And all the while, almost no one spares a moment to question whether the quote is even real in the first place. For those trying to score political points, the fewer questions asked, the better.

Andy Carvin is Senior Fellow with the Digital Forensic Research Lab and is based in Washington, DC.

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.

DFRLab

@AtlanticCouncil’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

@DFRLab

Written by

@DFRLab

@AtlanticCouncil's Digital Forensic Research Lab. Catalyzing a global network of digital forensic researchers, following conflicts in real time.

DFRLab

DFRLab

@AtlanticCouncil’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. Catalyzing a global network of digital forensic researchers, following conflicts in real time.

@DFRLab

Written by

@DFRLab

@AtlanticCouncil's Digital Forensic Research Lab. Catalyzing a global network of digital forensic researchers, following conflicts in real time.

DFRLab

DFRLab

@AtlanticCouncil’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. Catalyzing a global network of digital forensic researchers, following conflicts in real time.

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