Misspelled protest message from Canadian university, not Columbia

Social media users are mocking pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University by claiming a misspelled message appeared on the Ivy League campus in New York City. But the image comes from the University of Ottawa, where a student news outlet reported someone spray-painted the words "Free Palastine" on the steps of a building.

"Keep in mind….a Columbia University education can cost up to $90k a year…..In their defense, steps don't come with a spill chucker….er….spell checker," says a May 7, 2024 post on Threads.

The same image spread on X, where one user commented: "Wait. The kids at Columbia spelled 'Palestine' wrong?"

Another user pointed out that an uncropped version of the photo appears in the music video for Macklemore's new song "Hind's Hall," which praises student protesters.

Screenshot from Threads taken May 8, 2024

The claims come after Columbia, one of eight Ivy League universities and the epicenter of US student protests against Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip, canceled its graduation ceremony amid efforts to contain the unrest that has rocked campuses for weeks. At least 100 demonstrators have been arrested at the New York City campus.

However, the image shared online is not from Columbia University. 

The Fulcrum, a student news organization at the University of Ottawa, posted a photo of the same graffiti May 1 on X (archived here). 

"The steps in front of Tabaret Hall were spray painted by a protester, who was then chased by security. Witnesses tell the Fulcrum that the individual was picked up by a waiting vehicle," the outlet reported.

The Fulcrum published May 4 a longer description of the event and encampment at the school in the Canadian capital.

AFP geolocated the image to Tabaret Hall, which houses the University of Ottawa's administrative offices. Images from Google Maps and the school's website show the structure is the same as the one in the photos shared online (archived here and here).

Screenshot from Google Maps taken May 8, 2024
Screenshot from the University of Ottawa website taken May 8, 2024

AFP has fact-checked other misrepresented visuals pertaining to pro-Palestinian campus protests here, here and here.

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