Bulgarian and Georgian colleagues fact-checked two striking news reports from Belgium last week. In Genk, a company would cut down 12,000 hectares of trees to install solar panels. And a video of a vaccination campaign in a Hainaut secondary school is said to show that vaccines against the human papillomavirus are dangerous. Both stories are wrong.
No 12,000 hectares of trees were cut down for solar panels in Genk
The Bulgarian fact-check organization Factcheck.bg contacted factcheck.vlaanderen after they came across a paid Facebook advertisement in Bulgarian at the end of October with local news from Genk. It states that 12,000 hectares of forest will be cut down to install solar panels. The Genk branch of steel producer Aperam wants to expand its solar energy capacity. The advertisement therefore concludes that solar panels do not really provide green energy.
The Bulgarian fact checkers found that Aperam has indeed submitted an application for the installation of 30,000 additional solar panels. But in reality the company only needs 12 hectares of land for this. A thousandfold less than is stated on Facebook. Moreover, it concerns a vacant lot in an industrial area, of which only 1.5 hectares of trees ultimately have to be cut down. So no large forest will disappear, as the advertisement claims.
Screenshot of the message sent by Factcheck.bg was fact checked.
The messages are accompanied by a photo of major deforestation, although Aperam has not yet started felling trees. If this forest doesn’t look familiar to you, that’s not surprising. The photo is at least 10 years old and was not taken in Genk at all, but in the American state of North Carolina.
News video from school in Hainaut does not prove that HPV vaccines are harmful to children
Local news from Belgium has also circulated on Facebook elsewhere in Eastern Europe in recent weeks. In Georgia, a fragment of a report with Russian subtitles about a secondary school in the Hainaut municipality of Morlanwelz was circulated. Georgian fact checkers from factcheck.ge discovered that it was a news video from the French-language broadcaster RTL. The original video dates from November 2022, but suddenly went viral in Russia and Georgia a year later.
The report reported on the annual vaccination campaign against the human papillomavirus (HPV) at the provincial atheneum of Morlanwelz. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus group that can cause cervical cancer if infected.
Screenshot of the checked Facebook post (source: Fact Check Georgia).
The social media posts cite the video to state that the children become ill after receiving the vaccine against HPV and that vaccination is therefore not safe.
Although it is true that about twenty students at the school felt unwell, the symptoms were mild, such as nausea and headache, symptoms that are more common with this vaccine.
The fragment on Facebook conveniently cut out the last 30 seconds of RTL’s original report. The director of the school spoke and said that the students were kept aside for a while as a precaution, but that they soon felt better again. The vaccine doses were then checked and found nothing was wrong with them.
Two local news reports from Belgium were given a new lease of life in Eastern Europe after Bulgarian and Georgian Facebook posts used them to discredit vaccines and solar panels. The reports are based on real regional news, but the news facts were distorted by adding false elements or omitting important fragments.