Articles and social media posts claimed that DiCaprio is connected to Ukraine because his late maternal grandmother was born in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Some of the articles claimed that DiCaprio’s $10 million donation was announced by an organization called the International Visegrad Fund.
The saga of the nonexistent $10 million donation is a case study in how bad information can bubble up from the online fringes to mainstream media outlets — with outlet after outlet, big and small alike, simply repeating the story without independently verifying it.
A poorly sourced story
GSA News founder Patrick Carpen stood behind the article on Wednesday afternoon, even after he was informed that the source close to DiCaprio had told CNN that its contents were false. Carpen said in an email to CNN, “I really trust my source inside Ukraine.”
Carpen explained that his primary source for DiCaprio’s supposed $10 million donation had been a Facebook post from a Ukrainian woman whose posts about the war with Russia have generally been accurate. Carpen said he had also seen other Ukrainians on Facebook posting about the supposed donation.
Since his Guyana website has a small readership, Carpen said, he thought that if he published an article repeating the DiCaprio story and it turned out to be wrong, he could quietly delete the article within days.
“I thought that it wouldn’t have a lot of consequences if it was false,” he said.
Instead, he said he watched with surprise and dismay as the story “snowballed into everybody’s news publications, some of them with millions of followers. And that kinds of worries me…that people would just take something at face value and just publish it .”
He acknowledged, however, that he had himself taken a claim from Facebook posters at face value.
To Twitter, then another obscure website, then major outlets
Whether because of the GSA News article, because of Ukrainians’ posts on Facebook or for some other reason, the story about DiCaprio started spreading more widely on Sunday.
More than 10,000 retweets
Regardless, the Visegrad 24 tweet was retweeted more than 10,000 times. It was deleted on Wednesday afternoon after CNN informed the account that the story about the $10 million donation was false.
“It seems we fell prey to a fake story ourselves. Happens to the best of us!” a representative for the account said in a message to CNN on Wednesday.
So where did the account get its information? “We saw the story tweeted by several small news accounts, citing an anonymous source,” the representative said.
Major outlets pick up the story
On Monday, the day after the Visegrád 24 tweet was posted, the story really took off.
Again, not true. The public relations manager for the fund, Lucia Becová, said in a Wednesday email to CNN that the fund had made no such announcement.
It’s possible that Polish News mixed up the International Visegrad Fund with the Visegrád 24 Twitter account. By Wednesday, the Polish News article had been edited to remove the reference to the International Visegrad Fund — and the site did not express strong confidence in the rest of the story. A Polish News representative, Artur Salamonczyk, said in a Wednesday email that if CNN is aware that DiCaprio didn’t make the $10 million donation, “we are happy to remove the content.”
News outlet after news outlet had cited Polish News as the primary source behind their stories that DiCaprio made a $10 million donation to Ukraine.