Fake Ohio Tornado Photo was Facebook Joke, but Man Could Be Fined, Even Jailed?

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DIDN'T ACTUALLY HAPPEN: An Ohio man posted a picture of the Eastgate area with a tornado Photoshopped in. (Credit: Fox19.Com)

Will an Ohio man go to jail over Photoshop prank?

Last October, Justin Strunk doctored a photo of Cincinnati’s Eastgate Mall parking lot to include a tornado to the background.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, he then posted them on his private Facebook page. And then, in the midst of last week’s severe weather, one of Strunk’s Facebook friends saw the photos, mistook them for real documentation of a tornado in the area, and passed them on to more friends, according to Fox 19.

The photos ended up going viral and Cincinnati’s Union Township Fire Department thought they were real, leading the department to investigate whether a tornado had touched down.

“I do a lot of quick, silly Photoshop pictures and share them,” Strunk reportedly said. “I had sent the Photoshops to my family members and to a couple friends back in October for inside humor. They were never meant to be released to anyone else.”

But, The Enquirer reported that Strunk may be in trouble with authorities over the photo.  According to the Enquirer, “whoever was responsible might face a criminal charge of inducing panic.”

Breaking an Ohio law against “initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending … catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false,” could lead to jail time and fines, according to the Enquirer. The township’s administrator, Ken Geis, reportedly told the Enquirer that “We wasted resources with our Fire Department as a result of” the photo.

“It was literally a complete misunderstanding, and no one intentionally distributed those pictures for any malicious viral reasons,” Strunk is quoted as saying.  Strunk added that he never sent the photos out and that his friend did.

The National Weather Service confirmed the photos of a tornado near an Ohio mall were fake photos.

The Enquirer also reported that National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Snyder commented on the fakery. “Apparently there are some pictures circulating around the Internet of a funnel cloud near Eastgate Mall, but from what we can tell it’s faked.”

iMediaEthics is writing to the township to see if it intends to charge Strunk. We will update with any response.

This isn’t the first fake tornado photo to make the rounds. Last fall, TIME had to issue a correction after it posted a picture of a 1976 tornado in New York City with its 2010 storm coverage.  The 1976 image was put on Twitter by user “The Dave Carlson,” who posted it as “a prank on my friends.”

iMediaEthics also wrote in 2009 when an Alabama meteorologist posted a sampling of a dozen fake weather photos.

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Fake Ohio Tornado Photo was Facebook Joke, but Man Could Be Fined, Even Jailed?

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