Euronews’ best misinformation debunks in 2021


2021 may go down as the year of the coronavirus vaccine, but it also brought an unprecedented number of European elections and many other stories.

Throughout the last 12 months, false information and misleading rumours have continued to spread rapidly online and offline.

Euronews’ social media newsdesk, The Cube, has been fact-checking and debunking misinformation throughout the year.

From COVID-19 to Kabul, here are some of the highlights.

1. Ivermectin is not a cure for coronavirus

Before vaccines were rolled out to populations around the world, social media was awash with misleading claims about potential cures for COVID-19.

False claims online had suggested that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was deliberately ignoring a “miracle” cure.

Ivermectin is commonly used to treat parasitic infections — in both humans and other animals — but COVID-19 patients should not pick up some tablets from their local vet.

The EMA and the World Health Organization (WHO) have both stressed that only a dangerously high concentration of ivermectin would have a significant medical impact — but would also carry toxic side effects.

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in February 2020.

One year on, false claims about potential medicines were still gaining traction across the globe.

2. Vaccines do not cause COVID variants

By mid-December, more than 56% of the world’s population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

But in Europe, national inoculation programmes battled against vaccine hesitancy and anti-vax conspiracy theories.

One false claim suggested that vaccinated citizens would actually spread “super-strains” of the virus.

Immunologists have reiterated that the behaviour of COVID-19 variants is not linked to vaccines, but instead when the virus transmits and spreads.

The WHO’s message throughout 2021 has been resolute, in the face of online conspiracies.

“Rolling out vaccines as quickly and widely as possible is critical to protecting people before they are exposed to the virus and the risk of new variants.”

3. Police did not applaud an anti-health pass protest

During the summer, vaccine mandates and “green passes” became common for many European governments.

With citizens needing proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative COVID test to bars and restaurants, protests broke out.

One misleading video claimed that French police officers had joined one protest by applauding demonstrators as they marched past.

But the viral clips — showing police taking off their helmets and clapping — were taken out of context and were several months old.

The real videos showed French police applauding healthcare workers during nationwide rallies in cities such as Nîmes and Lille.

Anti-vaccine rallies are still taking place across much of the continent, but authorities are yet to show support for the vocal minority.

4. France’s ambassador did not abandon evacuees in Afghanistan

Misinformation can often circulate during dramatic international news stories, amid confusion over the facts.

In August, European nations were scrambling to evacuate diplomats, citizens, and Afghan supporters from Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover.

Runways at Afghanistan’s main international airport were overrun with people clamouring to escape, delaying many civilian and military flights.

Amid the chaos, false rumours had suggested that France’s ambassador to Afghanistan, David Martinon, had left Kabul before evacuations had been completed.

But French authorities had instead moved their embassy operations from the so-called “Green Zone” to the city’s airport.

Official photos later proved that Martinon had indeed remained in Kabul to support evacuation efforts.

5. German election ballot boxes were not opened by knives

In 2020, unfounded claims of election fraud and mail-in ballots dominated the 2020 United States Presidential election.

One year on, similar false rumours were spread in Germany before September’s federal vote to elect Chancellor Angela Merkel’s replacement.

Social media users suggested that the country’s ballot boxes could be opened using ordinary kitchen knives to potentially compromise votes.

But Germany’s Federal Election Commissioner reiterated that viral videos were “misinformation” and not proof of voter fraud.

Misleading claims about COVID-19 health passes were also spread just two weeks before the crucial election in Germany.

However, the constitution plainly stated that any eligible citizen — vaccinated or unvaccinated — could cast their ballot in polling stations.

And finally …

Euronews itself was itself used to spread misinformation during another key election in 2021 — the Iranian presidential vote.

A fake viral clip showed a woman — claiming to be a Euronews reporter — urging citizens to boycott the election and not exercise their right to vote.

In reality, the video had been manipulated by an Iranian production group and had been distributed without Euronews’ knowledge.

Click here to see more fact-checks and analysis.