Fact check: Viral photo doesn’t show COVID-19 protests in Vienna – USA TODAY

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The claim: An image shows demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Austria

As countries begin to introduce vaccine mandates, images purporting to show protests in areas with COVID-19 restrictions have routinely made the rounds on social media, though many pictures were actually captured years ago. 

When Austria, announced on Nov. 19 that it would impose a nationwide lockdown and mandate COVID-19 vaccinations to prevent a fifth wave of the pandemic, a photo of a large outdoor gathering went viral on Facebook.

“This is what opposition to lockdowns and mandates look like in Austria,” reads the caption of a Nov. 21 Facebook image that accumulated more than 1,000 reactions within a day before it was deleted. “This is just the beginning.”

Similar versions of the claim were also shared elsewhere on Facebook.

While tens of thousands of people protested in Vienna against the new lockdown measures and vaccine mandates, the photo in question was captured decades ago in Russia, not recently in Vienna. 

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The Facebook page and users that shared the post did not return a request for comment. 

Image taken in Moscow 

The photo circulating online was taken in Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square next to the Kremlin on March 10, 1991, when approximately half a million people demanded the resignation of then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, according to the image’s caption from the Associated Press

At the time, protesters were showing their support for Boris Yeltsin, who was elected the first president of the Russian Federation in 1991. The rally was one of the largest gatherings in Russia’s modern history, per Latvia-Based independent news site Meduza

The same image was misused on social media in 2012 during demonstrations in Moscow against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Atlantic reported, pointing out that an earlier version of the photo used cloning effects.

A similar photo of the crowd taken at a different angle was uploaded to Getty Images with the caption, “Pro-Boris Yeltsin supporters gather at a rally on March 10, 1991 in Moscow, Soviet Union.”

Images of people protesting in Vienna against COVID-19 restrictions were published by various news outlets including the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and the Austrian Press Agency. Police said there were nearly 35,000 protesters and fewer than 10 arrests, Reuters reported

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This isn’t the first time old photos of large crowds have been passed off on social media as COVID-19 protests.

USA TODAY previously debunked images from 2018 purporting to show protests against vaccine passports in Italy, and COVID-19 related demonstrations in France. 

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that an image shows demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Austria. The photo was captured in Moscow in March 1991 during protests against Gorbachev, and half a million people were in attendance. News reports said an estimated 35,000 people took part in demonstrations in Vienna against COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccine mandates.

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