The spire and parts of Notre Dame cathedral burning. Picture: Dominique Bichon/AP
The spire and parts of Notre Dame cathedral burning. Picture: Dominique Bichon/AP

Host suddenly ends Notre Dame interview

Conspiracy theorists are never far from a major event like the blaze at Notre Dame. And this morning, those pushing hoaxes were given a free hit when a YouTube blunder accidentally linked the French disaster to the September 11 attacks of 2001.

Moments after the fire broke out in the gothic heart of Paris, livestream videos were posted to YouTube. Linked to the videos were "information panels" providing details of the attacks on New York City.

The technology was designed to fight misinformation but YouTube admitted it failed a major test.

April 15, 2019. Picture: Dominique Bichon
April 15, 2019. Picture: Dominique Bichon

"We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre Dame cathedral," YouTube said in a statement. "These panels are triggered algorithmically and our systems sometimes make the wrong call. We are disabling these panels for live streams related to the fire."

It wasn't long before conspiracy theorists found their way into mainstream media.

Fox News in the United States inadvertently aired commentary from a guest who characterised the fire as the "French 9/11" and declared "the politically correct will try to tell you this is an accident".

The guest was Philippe Karsenty, who was introduced incorrectly as an "elected official".

Karsenty is in reality a known conspiracy theorist, who was once successfully sued for defamation after claiming a French TV network doctored an image of the killing of a 12-year-old boy in Gaza.

Fox News host Shepard Smith quickly shut down the conversation, telling viewers: "No, sir, we're not doing that here, not now, not on my watch".

Fox News host Shepard Smith quickly shut down the conversation with a guest about the Notre Dame fire. Picture: Fox News
Fox News host Shepard Smith quickly shut down the conversation with a guest about the Notre Dame fire. Picture: Fox News

He later added: "The man on the phone with us has absolutely no information of any kind about the origin of this fire, and neither do I."

But less than two hours later, as the cathedral fire raged on, another guest on the program started along a similar path. Catholic League president Bill Donohue linked the fire to other church blazes, and told the hosts, "forgive me for being suspicious".

"Just last month, a 17th-century church was set on fire in Paris," he said. "We have seen Tabernacles knocked down, crosses have been torn down, statues have been smashed."

He, too, was told those views were not welcome. Smith's co-host Neil Cavuto hung up the phone, telling Donohue: "We cannot make conjectures about this".

The conspiracy theories got wilder after that. Some linked the burning of the 800-year-old Catholic Church to Michelle Obama and even Brexit.

Fake accounts on social media circulated hoaxes almost immediately after the fire started. A fake CNN account tweeted that the blaze was started "by an act of terrorism".

The account has only a handful of followers but, as Buzzfeed reported, the tweet gained traction.

An article was 2016 was also shared hundreds of times after being tweeted by several accounts, including a verified account with more than 171,000 followers belonging to a member of the right-wing Rebel Media group.

The article from The Independent referred to a car found near Notre Dame three years ago with "Arabic documents" inside.

The fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral started at 6.50pm local time on Monday night - 2.50am AEST. Smoke could be seen coming from the roof of the building before the iconic gothic structure's main spire collapsed.

Police have launched an investigation into the fire, which is reported to be focusing on an "involuntary" cause rather than a criminal act. Scaffolding had been erected around the area where the fire broke out as restoration works were under way.

French President Emmanuel Macron described the fire as a "terrible tragedy," but said the "worst had been avoided." Speaking from the scene, he pointed out that the cathedral's facade and two main towers had not collapsed.

"I'm telling you all tonight - we will rebuild this cathedral together. This is probably part of the French destiny. And we will do it in the next years. Starting tomorrow, a national donation scheme will be started that will extend beyond our borders," Mr Macron said.