Iraqi Media Failing to Fact Check “Kurdish” Messi Story
Boy now thought to be from Afghanistan, Yalla can reveal
Last week Yalla reported on a viral photo that caught the world’s attention, a shot of a young boy, supposedly in Duhok, wearing a plastic shopping bag fashioned to look like Messi’s Argentina strip. We got excited about the prospect of finding the lad, of following the story and hoping for some cheer in what was an otherwise bleak image.
However, we knew we were facing an uphill battle, as the photo was taken from behind and we couldn’t identify the child’s face. After much thought, we took the decision that although the story was important, finding the boy would be almost impossible. Soon after, a BBC article cast doubt on the idea that the photo was taken in Duhok at all.
Twitter user @illMindOfRobin, real name Robin Hirori, found the photo on Facebook on 11 January, and posted it two days later saying it was taken in Duhok, as that is where his family originates from and he was required to geotag the picture.
Yalla spoke to Hirori, who lives in Sweden. “I found the picture somewhere on my Facebook feed. Not paying attention to why it was there or who uploaded it. Saved it and shared it on Twitter. I said Duhok because I had to tell location to the Twitter page I was sharing it to, they usually put in locations with the pic, so the first city that came to mind was Duhok. I never knew where it was from.”
Within days, the picture went worldwide, with a Messi fan account claiming that the Barcelona striker wanted to reach out to the child. The race, it seems, was on. Outlets in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq especially, wanted to find the subject, even though the only photo was of the back of his head. All the while Hirori was tweeting that the child was most likely not in Kurdistan – he had his own race on to find the origin of the photo.
“I think it’s sad really. How easy things spread without actually having any proof but still claiming things left right and centre. It’s amazing how this story blew up though, iI’m doing everything in my power to help the real kid.”
On the night of the 25 January, Erbil-based news channel Kurdistan24 published photos on its Twitter feed of reporters meeting “the Messi boy”.
Hirori, still angry at the image being disseminated without proof, and at his inability to find the original posting, had a breakthrough the next day, 26 January. He posted a photo of the child from the front. “The proof that I’ve received this morning came from @joynaw5.”
The boys do not look similar, and Hirori says that the boy in the original photo is from Afghanistan. “He [@joynaw5] knows the kid and his family. The kid lives in Jaghori [Ghazni province of Afghanistan].”
Yalla is sure this story isn’t over yet.