MYTHBUSTER: Coup d'etat and zebras - the wildest rumours about the French riots

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MYTHBUSTER: Coup d'etat and zebras - the wildest rumours about the French riots
Are there really zebras running free on the streets of Paris? No. Photo by Luis ROBAYO / AFP

The situation in France - where rioting has gripped the country for six nights - is undoubtedly serious. But it's also been the source of a vast amount of rumours, disinformation and plain lies.


France has in recent days seen serious social unrest - almost a week of rioting in towns and cities across the country following the death of a teenage boy at the hands of police. Cars and buildings have been set alight, shops looted and fireworks and missiles fired at police.

Thousands of arrests have been made and dozens of police officers hurt - the situation has naturally received blanket coverage in the French media and widespread attention overseas. You can keep up with the latest news and information about the riots HERE.

Hear the team at The Local discussing the latest from the riots in the new episode of the Talking France podcast? Download here or listen on the link below


But the situation has also attracted a deluge of fake news and misinformation, particularly in the English-speaking world. Here are some of the wildest rumours.

The animals have been freed from the zoos

Several videos have been shared on Twitter, one showing a zebra running along the street and another an elephant in what appears to be an underground car park.

The captions claim that rioters in the Paris suburb of Tremblay-en-France - near Charles de Gaulle airport - have freed animals from the zoo, which are now running free on the streets.


The Paris Zoological Park, which is 27km from Tremblay-en-France, has not reported the loss of any animals, and neither have any other French zoos.

There's a Coup d'Etat underway 

The images from the riots are undoubtedly dramatic - buildings and cars ablaze and huge numbers of police in riot gear trying to keep things under control.


This quickly mutated into views that a coup d'etat is underway, and president Emmanuel Macron will be overthrown by the army.

The riots have undoubtedly been an international embarrassment for Macron, who was forced to call off a high profile state visit to Germany in order to deal with the domestic crisis. He has gathered his cabinet for daily crisis meetings, with cameras allowed into the beginning of the meeting on Friday.

On Monday and Tuesday he will be meeting political leaders and local mayors at the Elysée Palace in Paris.

On the domestic political front, the riots have certainly been bad news for him, but he remains in post. French presidents are elected on fixed terms, and Macron's term is currently set to end in 2027. 

You may see some soldiers on patrol in the big cities - these are members of Operation Sentinelle, army patrols who have been deployed at tourist sites and transport interchanges since the terror attacks of 2015.

Rioters pushed cars off buildings

The British far-right politician Paul Golding shared a clip from the 2017 movie The Fate of the Furious - the 8th installement of the Fast & Furious franchise - claiming that 'immigrants pushed cars off buildings'.

While rioters did indeed set fire to many thousands of vehicles - mostly parked cars but also a tram and several buses - there is no recorded incident of cars being pushed off buildings.

We're not sure how Paul reached his conclusion that the people in his clip are immigrants based purely on their appearance (although we could probably take a guess) but the vast majority of arrested rioters who have appeared in court so far have been French. He later deleted the tweet, but continued with dozens of tweets about the situation in France, many containing misleading or old videos. 


France has fallen

The hashtag #FranceHasFallen was trending on Twitter over the weekend, almost exclusively among English-language accounts.

Clicking on it reveals little concrete information about the riots and a depressing cesspit of racism. 

While the situation in some areas is undoubtedly serious, following the accounts of people who actually live here reveal a weekend mostly spent shopping, visiting family or friends or going out to bars, cafés and restaurants (just like every other weekend in France).

A man had his hands chopped off

This bizarre claim received almost 5 million views on Twitter despite having no basis in reality.

Any such video might have been shared from France, but was certainly not shot in France during the recent riots. In fact there are almost no reports of serious injury to any members of the public.


Dozens of police officers have been injured - and a firefighter has died battling a blaze which may or may not be related to riots. On Saturday rioters crashed a car into the house of a mayor of a southern Paris suburb and set it on fire. The mayor reported that his wife and children suffered some injuries while trying to extinguish the blaze. 


The government turned off the internet

The fifth day of riots coincided with the latest in a series of major technical problems on the social media platform Twitter that left users unable to see new tweets.

On Friday, president Emmanuel Macron had castigated social media companies for their role in spreading the violence, and the rumour quickly spread that the Twitter problems were the result of a government blackout.


In fact, it was later revealed that the Twitter problems were the result of the social media platform's owner introducing a new policy for users. Other internet and social media platforms continued to function without issue over the weekend. 

An appeal raised €500,000 for the police officer who shot Nahel

This one is true. The officer who shot the teenager during a traffic stop and then claimed that he had refused to stop has been charged with murder.

Just under 40,000 people had made donations to the online fund set up on the website by a far-right media commentator and on Monday morning the total had reached €850,000. The collection easily outstripped another one for the family of the dead 17-year-old, Nahel M.


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