“Shame: they steal, they cheat, they embezzle, they are a disgrace to the world,” reads a Hungarian Facebook post that was shared more than 200 times since it was posted on May 16, 2023. The post includes a group photo of Michel, von der Leyen and Zelensky, who appear to be posing in front of a naked statue with both male and female features. 

“Everything about the West today in one picture…,” claims another post shared more than 500 times since it was posted on April 13, 2023.

None of them mention any alteration of the image.

Despite discrepancies of light and pixels that make the image suspect, many users seem to believe it is a genuine photo. “The background is apt! This is the kind of place only a lousy gang would choose for a photo,” said one Internet user. “Perverted neo-Marxists, disgusting worms,” added another. 

Screenshot from Facebook taken on May 23, 2023

The false image was shared in other languages too, such as in English and Russian

A simple Google search for the names of the three leaders leads to articles about a summit held in Kyiv on February 3, 2023. Some of the articles include a picture where the politicians can be seen in the same pose, but against a different background. A comparison of the image released by the Ukrainian presidential press service with the false picture shows that the politicians were cut from the original photo.

The original image in the AFP photo database (left) and the edited image on the right.

At the meeting, EU leaders pledged to support Ukraine “every step of the way” in its bid for bloc membership.

The provenance of the background can be found through a reverse image search. While AFP was unable to track down the original author of the statue photo, the exact same image has been circulating on social media for some time with comments voicing outrage over the sculpture. For example, a Dutch politician shared it in May 2021. An examination of the details, such as the reflections or the wet spot on the ground, shows that it is the same photo as the one used for the doctored image.

The background image (left) and the fake image (right). Markings added by AFP

This is not the first time that the statue has been the subject of misinformation. AFP’s Serbian fact-checking team already debunked false claims regarding the same statue in 2022. A reverse search showed that the statue is located in The Hague, in the Netherlands. The sponsor of the piece, the Stroom art centre, describes the statue as “a totem-like image, (in which) male and female and different visual cultures merge. It is, in all its calmness and vulnerability, a statement for freedom of thought.” 

EU leaders are a recurring target of misinformation. AFP Ténykérdés debunked false claims about von der Leyen in this article. Zelensky is also a frequent target of false claims. Fact checks about him and Russia’s war in Ukraine can be read here

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