Tech millionaire was not arrested in Norway for using a thong as a face mask

Screenshot from Twitter

On Monday, several international news outlets reported that the eccentric tech entrepeneur John McAfee had been arrested in Norway, allegedly on the grounds that McAfee refused to wear a face mask, instead insisting on covering his mouth and nose with a thong.

The story was first published by The Daily Mail, a British tabloid. Subsequently, the story made its way to tabloid newspapers like the New York Post, The Sun, Metro and the Evening Standard. It has also been shared in several Norwegian Facebook-groups.

The Daily Mail's source was a tweet by McAfee himself. In the tweet, McAfee writes that he was detained by Norwegian police on the grounds that he refused to wear a proper face mask. McAfee, who made his fortune on the anti-virus software that shares his name, also shared multiple photos of himself where his mouth and nose are covered by black lace underwear.

– I am insisting it is the safest available and I'm refusing to wear anything else -- for my health's sake, McAfee wrote on Twitter.

Hours later, McAfee revealed that he had been pulling a prank. On Twitter, he asked if the media fact-checks stories at all, and immediately concluded that they don't.

– Though the police uniforms in the photos clearly showed "Polizei" (German, not Norwegian - therefore Germany, Switzerland, Bavaria or Austria), many news outlets reported «Norway» as the location of my arrest, the jokester wrote, sharing screenshots of several news articles about his alleged arrest.

The German word «Polizei» is clearly visible on a police officer in one of the images McAfee shared on Twitter.
The German word «Polizei» is clearly visible on a police officer in one of the images McAfee shared on Twitter. Photo: Screenshot from Twitter

In addition to the photos, another detail should have alerted journalists that McAfee was joking. McAfee had written on Twitter several times that he was headed for Munich, even in the tweets where he claimed to have been arrested in Norway.

English-language media were not alone in falling for McAfee's prank. German-language outlets like Focus.de and 20Minuten, which operates in Switzerland, wrote that the entrepreneur had been arrested in Norway, in spite of the fact that the word «Polizei» is clearly visible on the uniforms worn by the police officers who appear in the photos McAfee shared.

According to the Swiss tabloid Blick, the photos are from the airport in Augsburg, which is close to Munich. Blick spoke with German police, who state that McAfee was not arrested. Rather, he was informed that he would be subject to quarantine if he entered Germany. McAfee opted to travel elsewhere.

In a later tweet, he claims to be in Belarus.

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