With Hurricane Sandy came fake photos, old photos, inaccurate reporting, and corrections, as iMediaEthics has written. First there was a September photo of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers re-circulating as if it were from Oct. 29. And, there were fake storm photos, of course. CNN and the Weather Channel both wrongly reported that the New York Stock Exchange was flooded, and the Wall Street Journal corrected an article on the New York MTA’s plans to get public transit up and running again. And, CNN issued a correction after it aired “the wrong picture” of one of the people killed during Sandy — a New York woman named Lauren Abraham.
But there are more fake photos circulating during and after the storm.
BuzzFeed collected “11 viral photos that AREN’T Hurricane Sandy” including a photo purporting to show a “Flooded McDonald’s” and a still image from the movie the Perfect Storm. Some of the photos are obviously phony, picturing giant waves sweeping over tall buildings or giant monster-like creatures walking ashore.
But others, including a photo of a wave crashing at the Statue of Liberty, go to greater efforts to trick. The Statue of Liberty wave photo (which is different from the photo of the Statue of Liberty with an ominous storm cloud nearby) carries New York TV station NY1‘s logo with a graphic identifying the image as a “Live Cam” shot complete with time and temperature.
Likewise, Snopes posted dozens of photos that are being re-circulated, including a photo of “a man carrying his dog piggyback style through flooded streets,” an “eerie picture” reportedly of the Brooklyn Bridge, even though that is a “real image” from 2009 of the George Washington Bridge, and a “scuba diver swimming around” in the Times Square subway station.
ABC News posted a photo of a shark fin in flooded streetwaters writing “While it’s generally assumed the fins are fake, they’ve still caused a fright.” (Check out iMediaEthics’ other fake shark photo stories including a fake photo purportedly of sharks in a flooded Canadian subway stop, a fake photo of a shark purportedly swimming in Tampa Bay, and a fake photo of a shark purportedly swimming in Puerto Rican streets.
In writing about the phony photos, ABC News considered the possibility that the photos could be real, quoting SeaWorld vice president of veterinary services Christopher Dodd after asking “Is it possible for sharks to swim up on the shore when floodwaters take over neighborhoods and streets?”
And, one of the fake photos isn’t just circulating in the US, but also in China, Boing Boing noted. The Washington Post reported that the photo, which “purports to show a shark swimming through the town’s flooded streets” in New Jersey, was posted on Chinese social media site Weibo.
Media Bistro’s Fishbowl DC noted that even though the photo of three soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers had already been identified as old, National Review’s Greg Pollowitz posted it and wrongly identified it as from this week.
National Review has since posted an undated “update” that reads:
“UPDATE: The above photo was mistakenly reported as taken yesterday, when it was actually from September. But the guards were there yesterday, too, still with bayonets fixed.”
Fishbowl DC questioned why the photo was re-posted given that National Review “linked to an ABC News article that explained when the photograph was taken and who was in it. He went with the false description anyway.”
In a follow-up blogpost, Pollowitz acknowledged that he “made two mistakes” in his report by providing the wrong date of the photo, and by identifying the guard as a Marine when “he’s an Army infantryman.”
iMediaEthics has written to National Review asking why the “update” wasn’t labeled a correction, when it was posted, and how the error was made. We’ll update with any response.
The BBC also collected tips for “five ways to spot a fake photograph” in the Sandy coverage.
Tips include “trust your gut,” check out the “light, shadow and reflections” in the picture, and examine other elements of the photo like “what people are doing and wearing” to see if the picture seems phony. (That last tip helped some discern that this photo of Justin Verlander was a phony.) The BBC also advised being skeptical of shark photos in general.
The BBC also quoted Hany Farid as saying “The weather images are tricky, because one of the things we use is things like lighting and reflections and vanishing points, and those don’t really exist in those images.”
iMediaEthics has written about Farid’s advice on detecting fake photos previously.