'Migrant' hoax: The selfies that fooled the internet

Selfie of an actor playing a migrant Image copyright Manson

An Instagram account that appeared to belong to a migrant, documenting his route from Senegal to Europe, garnered thousands of followers and global media attention. Now, it transpires, the account was a fake. BBC Trending talks to the man who mocked it up.

The account, created in the name of Abdou Diouf from Dakar, started posting selfies last week, and claimed to chart his perilous route from Senegal to Europe. The pictures showed him smiling to the camera with his "#family", and getting a haircut ahead of his big trip.

Image copyright Manson

His "journey" wasn't easy, though. A later picture purported to show him on a boat, in the dark. "The only way to cross, a small inflatable boat all night rowing. Really scared," the caption reads.

Image copyright Manson

Eventually he appeared to reach land. "Finally the land os opportunities [sic]. We tired but happy. Very danger trip," writes "Diouf".

Image copyright Manson

The account has built up more than 8,000 followers, and the comments on the photos prompted messages of derision from people who thought the journey was real. "FED UP WITH ALL YOU MILLIONS OF PEOPLE TRYING TO GET HERE, THERE IS NO PLACE FOR YOU HERE AND NO WORK, NO DREAM," said one. But plenty of commenters backed "Diouf" along the way. "Good luck bro, I wish u the best" and "may God make it easy for you," they wrote. News outlets across the web picked up on the story and reported it as genuine.

A handful of clues caused many to doubt its authenticity, however. For one thing, "Diouf" had a remarkable grip on which hashtags to use to promote his trip. Phrases like #Swag, #LovingLife, #InstaLovers and #IllegalDreamer appeared under all of his photos. And the name Abdou Diouf was borrowed from a former president of Senegal.

The account has now been revealed as a hoax by the photography blog Disphotic. It is actually an elaborate marketing campaign for a photography festival.

The man in the pictures appears to be a Spanish citizen called Hagi Toure, and all the images were shot within a few miles of the city by Tomas Pena, who was trying to promote the Getxophoto festival in northern Spain.

"We cast a bunch of people to appear in the campaign," Pena tells BBC Trending.

"It was kind of like Orson Welles' War of the Worlds," he says, referring to another famous media hoax, "but instead of using radio we used Instagram". The account was intended to make Europeans think about their attitudes towards migrants travelling to Europe from Africa, he continues. "We treat them like animals, and looking at the comments, there are some really racist comments. It's quite sad."

Though he intended to deceive people, Pena didn't think everyone would be fooled by the account. The unlikely hashtags were used on purpose. "We thought it was ironic to see him using hashtags like #RichKidsofInstagram."

Pena says Hagi Toure is actually a handball player who has lived in Barcelona for more than 10 years, and has a genuine Instagram account of his own.

Image copyright Manson
Image caption 'Diouf' is played by Hagi Toure who Pena says has lived in Barcelona for more than 10 years.

Blog by Sam Judah

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