Photos from animal rights lecture misused in false YouTube video

·4-min read

A YouTube video has been viewed more than 73,000 times alongside the false claim it shows a recording of a university professor refuting a Chinese student's claim that South Korea's Gyeongbok Palace is a copy of Beijing's Forbidden City by telling him the Korean one predates the Chinese imperial residence. However, the incident and the professor named in the video are made-up. Images used in the video actually show Australian philosopher Peter Singer giving a lecture on animal rights in September 2015 and an audience member who asked him a philosophical question about suffering.

The video, viewed over 73,000 times, was shared here on YouTube on April 12, 2023.

Its thumbnail shows the image of a young Asian man alongside the Korean-language title: "A prestigious university professor educates a defiant Chinese student in just two seconds."

Text over the thumbnail reads: "'Gyeongbok Palace was built by China': the reason why a Chinese student who was boldly making his claim was shut up with just two comments."

The video mainly consists of stock aerial footage of Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, the Joseon Dynasty's main royal palace and one of Korea's most visited tourist sites (archived link).

An image of what appears to be a student and a university lecturer is interspersed throughout the video, with text overlaid that reads: "Professor Todd Billings, during his lecture on East Asian History."

The video contains two voices speaking in English. One says Korea "copied everything from China" and that Gyeongbok Palace was "built by China and is a copy of Beijing's Forbidden City", which he claims was built in the early 15th century.

"That's something you're wrong about," another voice interjects. "Gyeongbok Palace was built in the late 14th century -- a century ahead of Forbidden City."

The supposed exchange ends when the student says he "cannot accept" the professor's explanation.

<span>Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on YouTube. Captured May 9, 2023. </span>
Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on YouTube. Captured May 9, 2023.

The YouTube video was also shared on Facebook here, here and here.

The claim reflects a rapid rise in anti-Chinese sentiment in South Korea in recent years, with the Korea Herald reporting in August 2022 that South Koreans' dislike for China appeared to be reaching a peak (archived link).

AFP previously debunked similar posts sharing images falsely purporting to show a Chinese student claiming "K-pop is Chinese".

But the incident is fabricated and the pictures show an Australian bioethics professor and a student.

There is no faculty or staff member named "Todd Billings" listed on the website of Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville, Tennessee (archived link).

University spokesperson Julia Jordan told AFP on May 10, 2023 that checks of the faculty registry confirmed the university does not employ a professor named Todd Billings.

Lecture on animal rights

A Google reverse image search found one of the men in the false video is actually Australian bioethics professor and animal rights theorist Peter Singer (archived link).

A separate YouTube keyword search found a video of Singer giving a lecture on animal rights at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy in Canada on September 18, 2015, titled "Peter Singer: Animal Liberation, Forty Years On" (archived link).

The video's description mentions a book written by Singer titled Animal Liberation, and goes on to state: "In this lecture, the author assesses how well the argument has stood up over that period, and what progress has been made towards the changes in our treatment of animals that the book advocates."

Singer does not mention Korea or China at any point in the lecture.

Scenes from the lecture correspond to the images used in the false video and shows the pictures were flipped.

The image of the professor was taken from the video's one-hour, 23-minute mark, while the image of the young man can be seen at the one-hour, seven-minute mark.

The young man asked Singer philosophical questions about suffering.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the two figures seen in the image from the misleading video (left) and corresponding frames from the original Singer lecture posted by the Rotman Institute (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of the two figures seen in the image from the misleading video (left) and the original Singer lecture posted by the Rotman Institute (right)</span>
Screenshot comparison of the two figures seen in the image from the misleading video (left) and the original Singer lecture posted by the Rotman Institute (right)

Gyeongbok Palace

According to South Korea's Cultural Heritage Foundation, Gyeongbok Palace, also known as Gyeongbokgung, was built in 1395 in Seoul, after the capital was moved there by the then-newly founded Joseon Dynasty (archived link).

The Joseon Dynasty kept meticulous records of the palace's construction -- the palace's inauguration in 1395 was recorded in its annals, which also detail the completion dates for each building (archived link).

This original palace was destroyed by fire during the Imjin War between 1592 and 1598, but was later rebuilt and restored in 1865 (archived link).

Beijing's Forbidden City was constructed by China's Ming Dynasty from 1406 to 1420, over a decade after Gyeongbok Palace's first halls were completed (archived link).