Watch Out for False Information On the Notre-Dame Fire

Multiple misleading claims have been made after the fire broke out in Paris’ Notre-Dame.

3 min read
Watch Out for False Information On the Notre-Dame Fire

As any breaking news event, the tragic Notre-Dame fire, which destroyed the roof of the Parisian cathedral, has been followed by a lot of disinformation. Here is what you should be looking out for.

1. No, There’s No Proof That the Fire Has Been ‘Intentionally Set’ or ‘a Terrorist Attack’

From Maldito Bulo – The exact cause of the fire has not been determined yet. The Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation for “involuntary destruction by fire”, as the cathedral was going under renovation works. Investigators, this Tuesday, 16 April, are favouring the possibility of an accidental fire.


A tweet from Christopher J Hale, a Time columnist, has propelled the “arson” theory. “A Jesuit friend in Paris who works in #NotreDame told me cathedral staff said the fire was intentionally set”, he wrote, adding in a second tweet: “I should note that he has zero evidence beyond what the staff said. So qualify this as an unsubstantiated rumor.”

Watch Out for False Information On the Notre-Dame Fire

This didn’t keep the conspiracy website InfoWars from publishing an article on the sole basis of this tweet, that has since been deleted.

Other pieces of misleading information have been circulating, claiming that the fire was the consequence of a terrorist attack. In Spain, the website Alerta Digital has published this baseless claim, reports Maldito Bulo.

2. No, Gas Tanks Have Not Been Found Near Notre-Dame on the Day of the Fire

From Maldito Bulo – Many social media accounts are sharing a real article from The Telegraph, headlined: “Gas tanks and Arabic documents found in unmarked car by Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral spark terror fears”. This story is from 2016, and is unrelated to the fire. The Telegraph has added a disclaimer on its article.

Screenshot of Telegraph 2016 article.
Screenshot of Telegraph 2016 article.
(Photo Courtesy: Telegraph)

3. There Was No Man Standing Next to the Fire While It Started. It’s a Statue of the Virgin

From AFP Factuel – A conspiracy theory has spread on French social media, involving a picture in which we can see the figure of a person standing next to the fire. This figure is the one of “la Vierge du trumeau du portail du Cloître”, as you can see here:

4. Yes, This Picture of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower Is Real

From Checknews – Some people have suggested that this picture, published on the Facebook page A G Photographie, was a fabricated image. It is not: it’s mostly a matter of perspective and of material, reports Checknews, which published an interview with the photographer. The picture was taken very far from the scene with a tele photo lens.

5. No, This Is Not the Second Time Notre-Dame Has Been Burning

From 20 Minutes – This misleading tweet claims that the cathedral was bombed during the First World War. It has not, and the pictures on the tweet are from the Cathedral of Reims.


6. There’s No Proof That the Notre-Dame Fire Has Any Link With Past Vandalism

Many people, on social media and in interviews, have been linking the fire with previous acts of vandalism against churches. There indeed has been an arson at the Saint-Sulpice church on 17 March, even though the culprit and their motive are still unknown. There was another fire in January in a church in Grenoble. The investigation is still ongoing but the Grenoble prosecutor said there was “95% chances” the fire was accidental, even though an anarchist group claimed they were responsible. There are about two acts of vandalism against churches every day in France, including satanic, neo-nazi, anarchist or Islamist graffitis, according to the ministry of Interior quoted by Checknews.

The baseless link between those acts of vandalism and the Notre-Dame fire has been made, for instance, by Philippe Karsenty, a controversial local politician from Neuilly-sur-Seine’s city council, on Fox News.

This link was also made on several websites in Germany and in Lithuania, according to our partners Correctiv and 15min.

(This story has been published in an arrangement with the FactCheck EU Initiative.)

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