An amazing account of a migrant’s journey from Senegal to Spain surfaced on the Internet last week. Several photos, films and selfies were posted on Instagram showing the hardship, suffering and exhaustive route undertaken by Abdou Diouf as he made his way to safety.
The images immediately grabbed attention and garnered thousands of followers. With so many recent horror stories about migrants fleeing their homeland and tragically dying in the process, this one had so much personal detail and such a positive outcome – hence the global attention.
News outlets took the story at face value and began to run the story with The Huffington Post UK running a full report.
Then doubts began to surface.
People began to question Diouf’s use of inappropriate hashtags such as #photochallenge, #instagood and #foodporn. As the photos and videos were more thoroughly scrutinised, the story was revealed as a hoax.
In fact it was a marketing exercise by the company Volga to promote a Spanish photography festival, which this year has travel as it’s theme. Abdou Diouf is a fictional character played by actor and handball star Hagi Toure.
Without even beginning to explore the ethical queries raised by the production company’s dubious decision to create this social media deception – especially on such a hugely emotive and political subject – one massive question emerges from a journalistic point of view … whatever happened to fact checking?
With the rise of social media intruding on their already busy schedules, fewer journalists have the luxury of time to check facts as carefully as they should.
Articles are being published too quickly without accuracy being properly considered and the pressure for sensationalist headlines, and the subsequent revenue, seems to override care when dealing with important news stories.
As with ‘location, location, location’ – the mantra when buying a new house – ‘verify, verify, verify’ should be loudly ringing in the ears of journalists when sourcing stories from social media.
With the ever-increasing amount of online content this hoax has been a much-needed cautionary tale to all of us who work in the world of media and journalism.