My post today provides an example of how easy it is to mislead people with social media – in this case Instagram. It’s also a lesson about what not to do in journalism.
On August 2, The Huffington Post ran a story with this lede:
“A young migrant appears to have Instagrammed the joy and fear of his journey from North Africa to Europe in a serious of posts showing him terrified on a small boat, hiding in a truck and being manhandled by police.”
The HuffPo ran many of the photos posted by “Abdou Diouf” from his Instagram account @abdoudiouf1993. The story went viral as he as chronicled his hair-raising trip from Senegal to Spain. People commented as they always do on Instagram – some were skeptical of the veracity of the story, some expressed sympathy for the man, and others wanted him out of their country.
Yet, not a stich of this was true.
The very next day, The Huffington Post ran this story: UPDATE: ‘Instagram Migrant’ Who Captured His Journey In Photos Turns Out To Be Spanish Handball Player Hagi Toure. In the rush to get the story out before anyone else neither the writer nor the editors at The Huffington Post bothered to make contact with the so-called Abdou Diouf to verify the story and get a quote. Instead, they reported that he “appears to have” Instagrammed his journey. The truth is that it was a campaign by a Spanish production company seeking to draw attention to an upcoming international photography festival in Spain.
The final post of @abdoudiouf1993 on Instagram was written in the voice of the fake illegal alien replete with spelling errors to increase its authenticity. It read …
“The tryp has arrived to the end. Thak you friends for all the atention, the suport, and the debate. This Instagram experince was based on the real experience of thousands of people that every year risk their lives for a better future. To explore how we use social networks as a place to share tryp images and expriences depenending on who we are and why we are travelling. Showing that other realities exist and are closer than what we think. Yo can see this and other photo proposals about travel in the International Getxopoto festival, taking place in Getxo, Spain, from the 3 of September to Octuber 4th.. www.getxophoto.com”
As of the date of this post, @abdoudiouf1993 had 13.6 k followers.
What do you think? Was it a brilliant PR/marketing campaign or a nefarious hoax?