Bangladeshi Rakib’s success in fake debate competition using White House name is reported in the media

Recently, media in Bangladesh claimed that a debate competition was organized by the White House, the official residence of the US President. The reports also claim that a school student named Shah Muhammad Rakib Hasan of Rangpur, Bangladesh has become the best debater in the said competition. 

What has been claimed in the media 

Bangladesh’s national daily Daily Star claimed, “A Bangladeshi student has become the best debater by winning 144 consecutive debates, breaking all the records of the US government’s parliamentary debate tournament organised by the White House. The international competition titled “Finding World Future Leaders” was held virtually from February 27 to March 14, reports our Dinajpur correspondent, citing a statement released by the White House. Shah Muhammad Rakib Hasan, a tenth grader at Rangpur Police Lines School, is from Ramroypur village under Parbatipur upazila of Dinajpur and lives in Rangpur with his parents. The 17-year-old is physically challenged, He became the best debater of the tournament out of 534 participants from different countries.”

Screenshot source: Daily Star 

The newspaper report claimed, The US government organises parliamentary debates every year in two categories — British Parliamentary and Asian Parliamentary — to find future leaders. Russia became the champion country in the competition followed by the Netherlands. The United States was the second runner-up.”

The report said, “According to the White House website, Holland Lop Michigan of Russian Federation became the best speaker in the competition while Shah Muhammad Rakib Hasan of Bangladesh the best debater. Rakib was scheduled to be formally presented with the award at the White House South Court Auditorium on March 28 (Tuesday-US time). US President Joe Biden would be the chief guest and Jeff Giants the special guest at the ceremony.Despite getting an invitation from the organisers, Rakib is missing the ceremony for various reasons, including not having a passport.” 

Another Bangladeshi media, ‘The Business Standard’, published an interview with Shah Muhammad Rakib Hasan in a report. Rakib claims there, There is no cost for application and registration.

See the reports published in the media of Bangladesh on the said claims Prothom Alo, The Daily Star,  Kaler Kantho, Bhorer Kagoj, RTV, Samakal, Janakantha, Somoy Tv, The Business Standard, Jagonews24, Bahanno News, Abnews24, The Financial Express (opinion), Bangladesh Today Dainik Shiksha, Bbarta24, Campustimes.press Daily Karatoa Rising Bd, Protidiner Bangladesh, Kalbela, Kalbela (2) Jugantor, Jugantor (2), Channel 24, Daily Campus, CampusLive24

Moreover, reports on the said claim have been published in the print editions of several newspapers. See  Jugantor (26 March), Kalbela (30 March), Bhorer Kagoj (26 March), Kaler Kantho (30 March), The Daily Star (29 March), Janakantha (27 March)।

Collage: Rumor Scanner
Collage: Rumor Scanner

Check out some of the Facebook posts circulating on the same claim here (archive), here (archive), here (archive), here (archive), here (archive), here (archive), here (archive) and here (archive)।

Check out some youtube videos on the same claim here (archive) এবং here (archive)। 

Fact Check

According to the Rumor Scanner investigation, The news of Bangladeshi Rakib’s success in the debate competition using the name of the White House is not correct, rather the White House has not organized any such competition recently. Rakib claimed to be the best debater in a fake contest by creating a fake website matching the White House domain.

The competition does not exist 

At the beginning of the investigation, the Rumor Scanner team tried to verify the facts of the media reports. 

Based on media information, the title of the competition (Finding World Future Leaders) could not be found on the internet by keyword searching. 

Despite claims that the contest was sponsored by the White House, the Rumor Scanner team did not find information about any contest that conducted keyword and manual searches on the White House website

Did Joe Biden attend the alleged contest on March 28? 

According to media reports, the winners of the competition were officially awarded at the White House South Court Auditorium in Washington on March 28 at 8:30 a.m. local time. US President Joe Biden was the chief guest. 

In investigating this, the Rumor Scanner team analyzed Joe Biden’s full-day schedule for March 28 (1,2). According to the schedule, his official program of the day began by receiving the daily briefing at 9:30 am local time. Later, after attending various programs throughout the day, Biden returned to the White House at five in the afternoon. 

Screenshot source: Factbase

Analysis of the schedule revealed that there was no program in Biden’s White House South Court Auditorium that day. It was claimed that he was there at 8:30 in the morning but in fact his day’s program started at 9:30 in the morning. 

Biden, however, attended a Democracy Summit at the South Court Auditorium the following day, March 29. Information about this program was mentioned in his schedule of March 29.

Screenshot source: Factbase

Updates on various issues related to Biden and the White House are regularly provided in the two sections of the official White House website called Briefing Room and Press Briefing. Analyzing the statements of the two sections for the last one month (March 1 to March 30) to know whether any statement has been made about the contest or whether Biden has recently attended such a contest, no information was found in this regard. 

That is, there was no evidence of any involvement of the White House or President Joe Biden in the debate competition.

Looking for the ‘best debater’ Rakib

An investigation by Rumor Scanner found the Facebook account of Rangpur schoolboy Shah Muhammad Rakib Hasan. 

A perusal of the account reveals that Rakib regularly shares media reports about his ‘recent success’.

Screenshot source: Facebook

Forging signatures on legal documents

Rakib, in a post (archive) published on his facebook account on March 29 added four pictures claiming legal documents of the debate competition.

Screenshot source: Facebook

The Rumor Scanner team has analyzed and verified the images. 

First image shows a certificate titled ‘Whitehouse International Debate Competition 2023’. It reads, Shah Muhammad Raqib Hasan is being presented as the Debater of the Tournament at the White House International Debate 2023.

If you notice, there is some difference between the name of the competition given in the title of the certificate and the name of the competition mentioned in the main text. Although the two words Whitehouse appear together in the title, the text inside is different. Although the title has the word Competition after Debate, it is not in the original text. 

Moreover, although the original text mentions setting a new world record, no information is given as to what that record is.

The certificate has a total of three signatures. The first signature is claimed to be that of the White House Head Counsel. 

Screenshot source: Facebook

The Rumor Scanner team found by keyword search that Stuart Delery is currently serving as White House counsel. His signature was not found to match that on Rakib’s certificate.

The second signature (top right) is that of US President Joe Biden. His signature, however, matches that of Rakib’s certificate. However, by doing a keyword search, Biden’s signature is readily available (1,2) in multiple open sources, including his own Twitter account.

Image collage: Rumor Scanner

The signatures of these two people are in the next i.e. second photo. In this picture there is another certificate which is claimed to have been given to Rakib for participating in the debate competition. 

The third image shows Rakib’s competition registration number (030829723105), registration code (AB07), claiming that he has entered the White House record book for winning 144 debates. The image also reads, This result was published on their official website on March 17 but has now been removed due to British rules and regulations. Then these results were published in the newspapers. 

However, there is no mention in the picture on which official website the results were published. It also raises questions as to why a US competition had to remove the results from the website following British rules.

At the bottom of this picture, there is a name of Jeffrey Zients who has acknowledged the above statement. He also has a signature that was also on three other photos. 

That is, the signature in all four images (the third signature in the 1st and 2nd images) is that of a person named Jeffrey Giants. His designation is not mentioned in the film.

Image collage: Rumor Scanner

The Rumor Scanner team has found that Jeffrey Giants serves as the White House Chief of Staff. With his signature, the signature of the said certificate did not match.

In other words, among the four pictures posted by Rakib with the certificate, the signatures of the three people except the US President are fake. The image of US President Joe Biden’s signature appears to have been collected from the Internet. Because this signature is readily available in multiple open source documents, including Biden’s Twitter account. 

Image collage: Rumor Scanner

The fourth image shows Rakib’s screenshot of the competition, which includes his name, address, Gmail, registration number and other related information. The card states that he registered on February 25.

Screenshot of fake news involving international media  

On Rakib’s Facebook account, we scrolled further and found a post (archive) dated March 20 with the caption ‘The Real Goat is Here’, where Rakib shared screenshots of news from the print editions of two newspapers.

Screenshot source: Facebook

The name of the newspaper in the picture on the left is not visible in full. However, two words appear titled ‘The New’. In the search, we found that the first two words of the name of the newspaper and the font are similar to the American newspaper The New York Times. 

See in picture –

Image collage: Rumor Scanner

It is claimed that the news in this regard was published in the New York Times on March 19. This date is mentioned in the screenshot of the news. 

Analyzing all the pages of the New York Times newspaper on March 19 based on this information, no news about this was found.

The name of the newspaper in the image to the right of Rakib’s post is not visible in full. However, two words appear in the title BBC New. In the search, we found that there is only one media outlet in the world with this name, British media BBC. But the font of the media’s logo does not match the font of bbc news in Rakib’s picture. 

See in picture – 

 Image collage: Rumor Scanner 

Moreover, the BBC does not publish newspapers in any country. 

That is, the screenshots of the two media reports shared by Rakib are actually fake.

 Suspecting that the two screenshots were edited, the Rumor Scanner team found a website called fodey after searching several different relevant keywords on the search engine Google. 

The homepage of the website shows a screenshot of a newspaper whose format and typeface match the screenshots of the two media reports shared by Rakib. 

Screenshot source: Fodey

This site allows you to create screenshots of newspaper names, dates, headlines and news, mainly for entertainment purposes. 

The Rumor Scanner team created a similar screenshot to test the issue. 

See in picture – 

 Screenshot source: fodey

That is, the screenshots of the two media mentioned in Rakib’s post also appear to have been created. 

Rakib did not post anything about the competition before March 19

Rakib made the first post (archive) about this competition on March 19. He captioned the post along with his picture and information about the best debater, “It was a great experience for me to participate in an international big platform as a debater from Bangladesh. I can learn a lot from others. They were just great, especially Frederick Williams!” I will never forget those memories. Pray for me.”

Screenshot source: Facebook 

According to the media and information provided by him, the competition period was from February 27 to March 14. Result declared on March 17. During this entire period, Rakib did not post anything about the said competition on his account.

Contest information is provided by creating fake websites on WordPress

In Rakib’s post, an official website is mentioned. We have already found no mention of such competition on the official White House website. The Rumor Scanner team analyzed archived pages of the White House website over the past month since the claims were removed from the website. But no such competition information was found in the archive.  

The Rumor Scanner team later found a site called http://whitehouse.gov.unaux.com  (archive) through various keywords and relevant manual searches.

At the same time, when we contacted Rakib, he also sent us a link to the same website. 

A warning message is displayed at the beginning of entering the site. That being said, this might be a fake site. Attackers may have changed the url to create an identical site.

Screenshot source: http://whitehouse.gov.unaux.com

By clicking the Ignore option (April 01) we entered the site and found that it is a WordPress site. The site has two posts and a sample page.

Screenshot source: http://whitehouse.gov.unaux.com

The first post on March 17 was titled ‘White House International Debate Competition 2023 Results’. 

That is, the results of the said contest are still available on this site. Although Rakib’s post was claimed in the image, the result has since been removed from the site.

The information mentioned in the media is available in the post. Apart from Rakib, two other people were mentioned in the post (other than two others were named. Chief guest Joe Biden, and special guest Jeff Giants were claimed to be present at the results distribution ceremony on March 28). One is Russia’s Holland Lop Michigan, who is claimed to be the best speaker of the final. But a keyword search turned up no such person’s name, but a private Facebook group called Holland Lop of Michigan was found. 

Another person is Louie Anderson. Rakib is claimed to have broken this man’s record. A keyword search of this person’s name found no information on anyone other than an American comedian (who died in 2022) of the same name. 

Screenshot source: http://whitehouse.gov.unaux.com

Later, after accessing the link to the second post titled ‘Preparing for Prize Ceremony‘ published on March 22, a photo was found which was claimed to be a photo of a special board meeting in preparation for the prize distribution of the competition.

Screenshot source: http://whitehouse.gov.unaux.com 

But reverse image search shows that the picture is dated December 20, 2018. This is the picture of the seventh annual debate competition of the US private university ‘University American College Skopje’.

Image collage: Rumor Scanner

In the same post, it is said that awards will be given in 6 categories on March 28. At the same time, it is reported that some decisions have been taken in the board meeting of that day. The decisions were analyzed by the Rumor Scanner team. 

Screenshot source: http://whitehouse.gov.unaux.com

The first decision states that news of the event cannot be found online except on the official website (referring to the official White House site www.whitehouse.gov). But being on any website means staying online. Moreover, there is no information about this on the White House website. 

According to the 2nd decision, this website has been temporarily opened for this year’s event. But there is no precedent for the White House opening such a temporary website, which is built on WordPress and warns about the possibility of fraud upon entering the site. The 3rd decision states that the site will be deleted after March 28. However, the site remains active till the publication of this report today April 02.

Fourthly, it has been decided that only the debaters of the competition will be able to attend the prize distribution ceremony at the South Court Auditorium. But according to earlier findings, no such event took place at the March 28 South Court Auditorium where Biden was present.

The fifth and last decision states that no one can take any picture or video during the award ceremony. It has been pointed out that debaters will be in trouble if they hold. But usually in any competition organized from the state level, such strictness of photo or video recording does not come to notice. 

At the end of the post is an email that is not created from the domain of the White House website but is created through the Gmail service.

That is, updates are given about the debate contest discussed on a WordPress site. The site has two posts on March 17 competition results and March 22 preparations for the prize distribution without any regular updates or details of the competition. The picture of the preparation meeting of the prize distribution in a post is basically the picture of a debate competition of a private university in 2018. Moreover, there have been various decisions regarding the awards ceremony not to take photos/videos, not to get news about it online which clearly proves that it is a bogus competition.

What does the US Embassy say?  

Asked whether the White House has recently hosted a debate contest, and whether the WordPress site belongs to the White House The US Embassy in Dhaka’s ‘Acting U.S. Embassy Spokesperson’, Bryan Schiller told Rumor Scanner, “I would refer you to the White House and the White House website for definitive information about any such program.  I have seen two website links with purported announcements about this program, however, that did not appear authentic.  This is true for two reasons. First, there was no White House logo. Second, they were from “.com” addresses, and the White House uses a “.gov” address: www.whitehouse.gov.

Rangpur district administration also stepped into the trap! 

Rumor Scanner published fact check article in Bengali language about this debate competition yesterday (April 01). 

Later, after a post about it on RumorScanner’s Facebook page, the news spread quickly. Later, the Rumor Scanner team came to know that Rakib will be greeted and welcomed by the district administration on April 2 in Rangpur. After learning about this, we informed the District Commissioner yesterday and sent the link of the article. 

But today Rakib was felicitated and the matter was also published on the Facebook page (archive) of the district administration But the post was removed due to criticism on the subject in the comments of the post.

Screenshot source: Facebook 

Bottom Line

Recently, in several media of the country following the claim that a school student named Shah Muhammad Rakib Hasan of Rangpur became the best debater in a debate competition organized by the US White House, investigation by Rumor Scanner revealed that the White House has not organized any such competition recently. There is no evidence of any involvement of the White House or the President in this matter.

Fake contests were spread by creating fake websites matching the White House domain. The photos that Rakib provided in his Facebook post demanding the legal documents of the competition showed evidence of the forged signatures of two US officials. Moreover, Rakib posted screenshots of fake news involving two international media outlets. The fake site even has a picture of the preparation meeting for the prize distribution of the alleged event, which is actually a picture of a 2018 debate competition at a private university.

Thus, the news of Bangladeshi Rakib’s success in the debate competition using the name of the White House was published in the media; That is completely false.

Sources

RS Team
Rumor Scanner Fact-Check Team
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