On December 1, 2018, a Facebook page Politicano published a post which said that Brussels is one of the most dangerous and criminal European cities. To illustrate this, Politicano cites non-existing surveys and an English article from Telegraf.rs.
Politicano’s post aims to fearmonger the public and associate Brussels with danger. To this end, the edition bases its article on nonexistent surveys and an English source that manipulates with the name of Telegraph.co.uk by changing one letter in the title and making it – Telegraf.co.uk, which, in fact, is a Serbian edition.
1. Various nonexistent surveys
According to Politicano, “various surveys” confirm that Brussels is the most crime-ridden and dangerous city in Europe. It is noteworthy that Politicano does not indicate the source of the surveys, thereby not providing its readers with the ability to independently verify the information.
2. Nonexistent call of the United States Embassy
Another part of Politicano’s post, where it claims that the United States Embassy calls on its citizens to avoid using Brussels Metro after dark, is manipulative, too.
The information on closing the metro is connected with a terrorist attack that took place in Brussels in November 2015 and took lives of up to 130 people. The Government of Belgium then increased the terror threat level from three to four and closed the entire metro system of Brussels. Stopping the operation of the metro is a policy under the particular terror threat level and is not a permanent regime. Therefore, Politicano tries to exaggerate a specific move and dramatize the situation.
Travel advisory for Belgium, published by the United States Department of State, does not mention the threats of metro usage at all. Although the document calls on the tourists in Belgium to maintain a high level of cautiousness, such warnings are not unique for Belgium and have been used for other European countries, as well. A separate chapter in the document is devoted to reads and public transportation in Brussels and this chapter does not mention threats related with metro either.
3. An English source for legitimacy
To confirm the information given in the post, Politicano included a link to an English article on Telegraf.rs, however, it is in fact Serbian, not English. The edition simply tries to imitate the famous British edition – the Telegraph.
The publication by Telegraf.rs includes a link to Telegraf.co.uk which slightly differs from the address of the British edition. The web-address of the original Telegraph is Telegraph.co.uk, whereas the Serbian imitation uses f instead of ph. The link to Telegraf.co.uk redirects to the main page of Telegraf.rs.
British edition - the Telegraph
An imitation of the British Telegraph
Other circumstances put the trustworthiness of the given source under question, too. The article of Telegraf.rs, cited by Politicano, states 13 reasons as to why Brussels is a crime-ridden and dangerous city. Out of 13, ten do not have source at all. Two reasons are based on such anecdotal sources as a Facebook page “ Things People In Brussels Don’t Say ”, as well as an Instagram profile “dirtybrussels”. The seventh reason, which the author bases on Wall Street Journal, relates to the problem of traffic jams in Brussels, whereas the ninth reason concerns the architectural deformity of Brussels. This leads us to think that the article published on Telegraf.rs reflects personal perceptions of the author and does not have anything in common with the official statistics.
Portraying opinion as a fact – an opinion of an individual is portrayed as a fact, confirming a certain event or information.
Usage of suspicious webpages – websites that are created by individuals or groups that do not reveal their identity, in order to impose their own political agenda. Often, such websites use titles of famous media brands with a small difference in spelling (Foxnews.ge, usa-radio.com, abcnews.com.co, theguardıan.com), so that the Western media is seen as a more legitimate source for the fake news they are disseminating.
Prepared by Guka Gudashvili
Media Literacy Regional Network