Fact check: Notre Dame fire conspiracy theories debunked
Published Tuesday, April 16, 2019 11:39AM EDT
As the Notre Dame cathedral burned on Monday, several conspiracy theories, hoaxes and deliberate disinformation campaigns went viral on social media -- some even gaining mention on live TV coverage of the devastating fire.
Although the investigation is early and still ongoing, officials say the fire was likely accidental. Officials consider it was possibly the result of the ongoing restoration work at the global architectural treasure, The Associated Press reports.
No government official, fire service or police service in Paris, has suggested any evidence of arson.
Dissecting the arson theories that circulated online as the fire burned, here is a brief rundown separating fact from fiction.
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FALSE CLAIM: Suspicious person wandering cathedral balcony
At around 7:51 p.m. (EST), Twitter user @TipsyPianobar shared a low-quality, grainy video and spread the false claim that a suspicious person was walking on a cathedral balcony with the caption: “No workers onsite. Who tf is this?”
TRUTH: It was a worker wearing a high-visibility jacket
But the Twitter video appeared to be directly taken from a live YouTube feed from CBNC of firefighters putting out hot spots on the historic building.
At least one unidentified worker in a high-visibility jacket or firefighter attire is seen walking back and forth several times throughout the feed -- at around 30 min, 42 min, 43 min and 45 minutes, for example.
Police officials have not stated any suspicious figures were on the scene.
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FALSE CLAIM: Fire was set deliberately
The aforementioned grainy Twitter video was picked up by internet message boards 4Chan and 8Chan; and encrypted chat service Gab at least 45 times, with users spreading the false claim that the fire was the result of arson.
People on 4Chan message boards have claimed the person in the video was either a Yellow Vest protester or a person of the Muslim faith. Many users also repeated the same false claim that the person in the video didn’t look like a priest or a firefighter.
TRUTH: Officials say the fire was likely accidental
No official from fire or police in France has speculated the cause of the fire was arson. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case.
Officials consider the fire an accident related to restoration work at the cathedral, The Associated Press reports. Several religious statues --which were typically on the spire -- were spared because they had been removed from the cathedral roof last week, as part of that restoration.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the investigation would be "long and complex," explaining that approximately 50 investigators had begun a probe into the 12-hour-long fire.
The team will be interviewing workers from five companies who had been hired to work on renovations to the cathedral's roof, where the flames first broke out.
Heitz said an initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m. Monday, but no fire was found. The second alert was sounded at 6:43 p.m. and a blaze was discovered in the roofing at that point.
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FALSE CLAIM: Fire seemed ‘suspicious,’ related to Muslim extremists
During live coverage of the fire, two guests on Fox News Channel tried to claim -- without any evidence -- that the fire was suspicious or connected to other earlier fires at other places.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue told host Neil Cavuto that, “if it is an accident, it’s a monumental tragedy. But forgive me for being suspicious.”
“Just last month, a 17th century church was set on fire in Paris,” Donohue continued. “We have seen tabernacles knocked down, crosses have been torn down, statues have been smashed.”
Then, in another interview with Host Shep Smith, Philippe Karsenty — the deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine who was at the scene — claimed something similar.
‘We’ve had churches desecrated each and every week all over France” over the past few years, he said in a phone interview, “You will hear the story of the political correctness which will tell you it’s probably an accident, but I don’t think,” he said, before he was abruptly cut off by Smith.
TRUTH: No evidence to suggest fire connected to earlier fires
In both cases, the hosts shut down the baseless speculation within minutes.
“Sir, sir, we’re not going to speculate of the cause of something that we don’t know,” Shep shot back. “No, sir, we’re not doing that here, not now, not on my watch.”
“The man on the phone with us has absolutely no information of any kind about the origin of this fire and neither do I,” Shep said after the call ended.
In Cavuto’s case, he ended his phone conversation with Donohue telling viewers: “we cannot make conjectures.”