Occasionally a photo or video will come along that goes viral, captures the hearts or imaginations of the people, who in turn influence their respective governments, and real, positive change is made that changes the world for the better.
This story is about 3 such photos that all meet those qualifiers – all iconic in their own rights – but all 3 share a dirty little secret. To be sure, the Middle Eastern events they portrayed shook us, made us cry, changed our lives and the policies of many of our nations…
…and yet NONE of them ever actually happened.
the Threatened Palestinian boy
You’ve likely seen it before: An IDF soldier aiming his rifle at a Palestinian’s head. No context is given – is the soldier about to execute the Palestinian at point-blank range? The photo spreads via Facebook, reinforcing the (false) narrative of “Israeli aggression against Palestinian victims.”
However, this event never happened. The latest charade in ‘Pallywood’ – a cottage industry dedicated to producing Palestinian propaganda – is now circulating on Facebook, showing “an Israeli rifle butt digging into a young Palestinian’s neck.”
Thankfully, Roi Rahmani, an alert media monitor, discovered another photo, this one showing the two Palestinian actors, appearing in a friendly selfie. The entire story was later covered on Israel’s Channel 2 news.
THE Burning Egyptian
(WARNING: graphic image. Viewer discretion advised)
The following screenshot, published by Ahmed Mansour, a famed anchor on the Arabic Al Jazeera claimed that the following image is one of a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, being burned alive by the Egyptian Military – the narrative being that the current Egyptian government is putting ‘victim’ Brotherhood supporters to death.
The Brotherhood, under the leadership of President Morsi, were the government of Egypt from 2012-2013. The organisation, founded in 1928, has a presence in governments around the world – but as of 2015 is considered a terrorist organisation by the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Not really the type one would get sympathy for.
If you search on the internet to check the truth about that image, you will find out that the original image is of a 2008 South African protester, who tragically set HIMSELF on fire. This was a very embarrassing revelation to Al Jazeera viewers, costing huge credibility in Egypt and beyond.
The Drowning Refugees
A photo of refugees floating in life jackets, looking for help has been portrayed all over the media as indicative of the plight that Middle Eastern refugees endure every day. on its own, it paints a grim picture of the risks that these refugees take, often with little kids with them in tow.
ONE SMALL PROBLEM – an uncropped version of the picture has surfaced, proving the photograph was selectively edited to persuade Americans into allowing open borders for refugees and to further liberal agenda.
The full image, provided by Bare Naked Islam, showed a group of young men standing about seven feet from the crisis. The ‘treacherous sea’ is 2 feet deep at most. Surprisingly, the media did not add a shark fin into the photo.
What we can learn
The first, and most important thing that we can take away from the story is that all consumers of news (whether we read it in the paper, watch it on TV, or listen to it on the radio) have a responsibility to not pass it on until we know it’s actually accurate.
So many times I have friends come up to me and tell me a new story that they read online or seen on television that was just so ridiculously fake and so stupid, I able to shoot holes in the story right away…with simple logic or facts they couldn’t dispute. So many people out there are gullible and naive followers of whatever comes their way – they don’t know what’s true and what’s not.
And some don’t even care. They’re looking for a biased opinion that meets their views – and whether it’s accurate or not is irrelevant. It could be a ridiculous myth – that’s the battle we fight today in looking for truth.
I don’t care whether you’re a conservative or liberal, I think that any time a news media source that you rely on has shown an obvious bias towards your particular views or those of the opposition, they should be ignored.
And sadly, that doesn’t leave many trusted options. Right wingers should not be relying on right wing news from Breitbart or Fox News to tell us the truth in every situation. Left wingers should not be relying on CNN or the mainstream media to tell them the truth. It behoves us to find the actual stories ourselves, often buried within the hyperbole and biased nonsense from both sides. The “no man’s land” between left and right sources is often the truth of the story.
We are not better informed about the particular issues of the day by listening to only the sources that we agree with. The only time that we will really learn anything about the world around us, and our response to it, is to watch both sides of a story.
One of the best little tools that I’ve ever found to help me know whether a certain online story is accurate or not is a website called TinEye.
You find a photo with an entire story developed around it, and you aren’t really sure you believe it. Save the photo in question to your device and then upload it to TinEye – and in seconds it will tell you when this photo first appeared on the Net, who the sources were – and you can then click those links and see if the original sources have now disappeared. It will also show you whether it has been doctored in the meantime.
It was with TinEye that I actually discovered that the drowning refugees’ story was based on a doctored photo – they had merely cropped it down and told a tale based on what was left. TinEye’s technology somehow analyses the pixels in one photo, runs it against its 17 billion image database, and comes back and says “here are the photos that most closely resemble it” – which is amazing because it almost always finds many sources for the same pic – but cropped, recolored, etc.
You can then click on the original sources of the photo – and may then learn that this “battle in Ukraine” today was actually a photo from Russia 10 years ago. Or a photo depicting something you are told has “just happened” may, in fact, have first appeared online years ago.
When fake news uses an image to tell a story it was never meant to tell, it costs the actual photographer or image owner, in reputation, etc. They might not have intended for this photo to tell this story, and being connected to it could result in them being punished by their customers, with bad publicity, etc.
Of course, the purveyors of today’s fake news aren’t concerned with misrepresentation. And they might not even be motivated by politics, but rather the potential profit from ads that can result from “going viral.”
As with any other form of image theft, photographers need to be practical about how to pursue infringement. But misrepresentation can damage a photographer’s credibility, so photographers would be wise to keep a vigilant eye out for real images used in fake ways.
Hear hear. In fact, we would all be wise to do that.