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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke November 29, 2021

Old photo of Russian protesters mischaracterized for the COVID era

If Your Time is short

  • This photo was taken in Russia in 1991. 

Tens of thousands of people in Austria recently protested a vaccine mandate and lockdown there to curb the spread of COVID-19, but one photo that’s being shared on social media in connection with the demonstration was actually taken in Russia 30 years ago. 

"Look at all those conspiracy theorists in Austria yesterday," reads a screenshot of an Instagram story showing a huge crowd in a city.  

This image, shared on Facebook on Nov. 23, a few days after the Austria protest, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The picture was taken in March 1991 as hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Manezh Square in Moscow "demanding the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his fellow Communists give up power," according to the Associated Press photo caption

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It’s been online and in context for years. The Atlantic published versions of it in 2011 and 2012. It appears alongside a timeline of the fall of the Soviet Union that was published on the website of the French university Sciences Po. And in August, AFP fact-checked a claim that the image showed a recent protest against vaccination rules in France.

That wasn’t true, and neither is the claim that it shows protesters in Austria this year. 

We rate it False.


Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 23, 2021

New York Times, Thousands in Austria Protest Virus Lockdown and Vaccine Mandate, Nov. 20, 2021

Associated Press, Russia unrest 1991, March 10, 1991

Gazeta, The first president of Russia was elected 25 years ago, June 12, 2016

The Atlantic, 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, Dec. 23, 2011

The Atlantic, The Moscow-protest photo that wasn’t what it seemed, Feb. 7, 2012

Sciences Po, 1991, la fin de l’urss, visited Nov. 29, 2021

AFP, La foto de una manifestación en Moscú en 1991 circula asociada a las protestas en Francia en 2021, Aug. 11, 2021

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Old photo of Russian protesters mischaracterized for the COVID era

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