A false story that actor Leonardo DiCaprio made a $10 million donation to Ukraine was repeated this week by media outlets around the world and shared by tens of thousands of people on social media.
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.
Facts First: DiCaprio did not make a $10 million donation to Ukraine and does not have a family member from Odessa or anywhere else in Ukraine, a source close to the actor told CNN on Wednesday. The source said that DiCaprio “stands with Ukraine” and has made Ukraine-related humanitarian donations to CARE, the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and the UN’s refugee agency — but that the reported $10 million sum is false, that claims of DiCaprio giving money to the Ukrainian government or to the Ukrainian military are also false, and that claims that DiCaprio has any “family ties” to Ukraine are false too.
The International Visegrad Fund told CNN on Wednesday that, contrary to the news reports, it did not announce a $10 million DiCaprio donation to Ukraine and has no related information.
So how did this false story spread so far?
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
On Saturday, an obscure website called GSA News, which focuses on news about the South American country of Guyana, posted a short article claiming that “sources inside Ukraine” said that DiCaprio “has transferred ten million US dollars to the Ukrainian government.” It added that DiCaprio “has Ukrainian roots through his maternal grandmother.”
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.”
On Wednesday night, though, Carpen called CNN to say “I apologize profoundly” for the false story, that he “had no bad intentions in publishing that article,” and that he was going to post a retraction, which he later did.
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