Fake News: Italians did not swap EU flags for the Chinese one

Disappointed Italians swap EU flags for the Chinese one – this was the title of a news piece published by a Hungarian government-sponsored ethnic Hungarian news site, in Serbia, and by the far-right news site in Hungary. We investigated the origins of the story and the pictures and found that in fact there was no intention of blaming the European Union for anything.

“The coronavirus pandemic has hit Italy the hardest and it seems that the European Union has not shown solidarity with the country, but China offered significant help in this difficult situation. Italian citizens also recognized this, and images were posted on social networks in which frustrated Italian citizens can be seen everywhere taking down  the EU flag and replacing it with the  Chinese one.” – wrote on 24th March 2020.

The Vojvodina news site which is supported by the  Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office and the (Hungarian) Bethlen Gábor Fund, refers to a Serbian news site, in its article on the replacement of flags, and the Serbian portal links a tweet by the Lebanese Sara Haj on Twitter.

 Sara_Haj was the tenth platform to spread news of the alleged flag changing according to a Google image search. However, the lines which emerged on March 23 are mostly echoed on Twitter in Arabic, among others by the Yemeni International Press, which also shared a post about the flag changing on Facebook.

Another tweet, by Sanaa Al-Inbaria reveals more about this case, referring  to the “famous Iranian-American writer Wali Nasr” and mentioning the US coronavirus conspiracy. But Wali Nasr does not exist. Vali Nasr (with a simple v), on the other hand, does exist, but he has never spread the conspiracy theory linked to the Chinese. One of Nasr’s hashtags leads to posts criticising American politics in the Middle East and this might have been a source of the connection.

According to Google, the image of the flag change appeared four times on the net: twice on Serbian, once on and once on a Chinese site, According to twoeggz, Poland stole 23,000 protective masks sent by China to Italy. But there is no reference  to where this information comes from, and no other news source supports these claims.

Google searching for this first image brings up an article where writes about the alleged mask stealing. This article, however, actually reveals the fact that this was fake news, as the Polish Foreign Minister stated on Twitter that it did not happen.

The photo appeared shortly afterwards on, a far-right Hungarian news site, with the text quoted above, claiming that “the EU flag is replaced by a Chinese or Russian flag, as instead of the incompetent and unfit for life European Union, Russia, China and Cuba provide help to the Italian people in their fight against the coronavirus”.

Átlátszó managed to find out about the photos that they were taken outside an Italian company, Svecom-P.E.’s office building in Montecchio Maggiore, Italy.  We contacted the company by email and phone to ask what exactly was shown in the photo. The company replied that the photo was a simple documentation of how the flag was changed every week in their four flagpoles in front of the building.

“We raised the flag of that nation as a way of saying thank you, but there was no mention of blaming the EU for anything. Just thanking the country which helped. Unfortunately this photo was used by extremists for their own purposes” – a company employee told Atlatszo reporters.

The relationship between the EU and Italy is not only burdened by fake news of unknown origin: real Italians are also criticising the EU’s virus management in several Facebook groups. One such group is StopEuropa-ItalExit, where most of the posts are about how Italy should be outside the EU, because the EU does not represent them,  is not supporting them.

Another Italian company, Gruppo Colle, also voiced this in their own way: according to their Facebook page, they took down the EU flag on March 20, though they did not replace it with the Chinese one. Their move divided their followers: some considered it a patriotic move, while others thought it was politically motivated. The case was also reported on by the right-wing nationalist Il Primato Nazionale  which had its page temporarily suspended by Facebook last October.  

Written by Csaba Segesvári. The more detailed Hungarian version of this article is available here.