A popular video blogger pranked Romanian media by tricking them into running a fake news story about an apparent car crash.
Andrei Şelaru, known online as Selly, is the most popular Romanian YouTuber with millions of social media followers.
Selly doctored a video to make it look like he had been involved in a car accident and sent it to Romanian newsrooms.
The 19-year-old said he wanted to show how easily fake news gets picked up by some outlets.
“People believe all that they see on TV, so my experiment set out to show the entire country how something fake can become news in Romania," he told Euronews. "I manufactured a video, noticeably made on a computer and sent it to the editorial office of the most-watched news programme in Romania. In a few hours, it was all over the news.”
Only a few of the many outlets that Selly tricked issued an apology.
Libertatea.ro, one of the main Romanian news websites, said it would enhance information checks, increase its number of journalists and bolster resources assigned to verifying news. It also published an article apologising to readers. The Libertatea journalist who signed the fake news article told Euronews it was a beginner’s mistake.
“I didn’t verify with Selly," Anamaria Nedelcoff told Euronews. "I made the mistake and I am sorry for it. Worst of all, I regret the hatred my team had to put up with because of what happened. They are good, hard-working journalists that sometimes need to work at a hellish pace and they don’t deserve this.”
How did Selly produce the fake news video?
The damaged car was computer-generated and added to a street scene showing a passerby filming the accident with his mobile phone. The pretended passerby, one of Selly’s friends, sent the video to a TV news station using a fake account.
Some of Romania’s largest news stations and publications included the video in their reports and articles.
The next day, Selly came out with a video blog exposing the stunt and berating the manner publications chose to proceed with handling the story.
He said no one called him, his parents or manager to check if the story was real or if the accident did indeed happen.
“Journalists need to be aware of both the power and the responsibility their actions hold,” he said to Euronews.
Selly said he decided to do the fake video after a news outlet repeatedly published fake news about him.
“I realised how far the lies of the most-watched news TV station in Romania can go when three weeks ago they launched the fake news that a fight took place in my flat. In their desperate search for ratings they manufactured an event that never took place,” he told Euronews.
He called on his YouTube viewers not to trust everything shown on TV.
“If I was able to do this in two days with a €100 computer-generated car model, imagine what powerful individuals, with huge resources and influence in state institutions can do,” he said in the video.
Selly also believes his experiment might improve the quality of news in Romania.
“They will pay more attention from now on, ask more questions, aware that there are people out there trying to manipulate the news. Everyone had something to learn from this experiment, both the journalists and me.
“News stations are not what they used to be following the rise of the internet. The news quality here has fallen greatly. Many TV stations are prioritising profit over quality and truth.”