Mike Fromowitz
Nov 1, 2012

Fake pictures create a storm on Social Media

So much fake and misinformation swirled around on social media sites in the wake of  Hurricane Sandy, a massive, deadly storm that took several lives in the Caribbean and the USA.  People tucked ...

Fake pictures create a storm on Social Media

So much fake and misinformation swirled around on social media sites in the wake of  Hurricane Sandy, a massive, deadly storm that took several lives in the Caribbean and the USA.  People tucked away in their homes waiting for the storm to hit had lit up Twitter and Facebook to seek information. Others were creating humorous and fake images of the storm. Within one 24 hour period there had been over 7.1 million tweets. And that was before the storm made landfall. 10 photos a second were being uploaded to the popular photo sharing site, Instagram.

Fake Pictures

But while some of the images were real, a greater number of the ones circulating around social media sites were fake images  This one, below, showing an ominous New York City skyline, led to a lot of confusion as many shared it saying it was real.

One of the most re-tweeted and shared photos (below) shows the Statue of Liberty with the eye of the hurricane looming above her head. The photograph is, in fact, a combination of two photos: one is of the Statue of Liberty, and the other is of a thunderstorm over Nebraska in 2004.

The following photo was from a 2009 film titled "Flooded McDonald's".

The next image, below, is the wallpaper from the film "The Day After Tomorrow".

Another image posted on Mashable shows some sharks making their rounds in the New York Subway. An easy Photoshop  job of course.

Just like the Arab Spring and the last three US Presidential elections have been transformed by  social media  — YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — natural disasters and tragedies are emerging as a way for social media services to gain respect and legitimacy as news agents as well. Social media has become the go-to source these days whenever or wherever there is a crisis. If you’re trying to connect with people outside a crisis area or inside a crisis area, it seems to be one of the best forms of communication. Their immediacy, broader reach, and the fact that they are image based, are considered by consumers to be one of  the best ways to tell a story.

However, it’s nothing new for social media to be a massive source of misinformation (e.g.: the countless Twitter hoaxes of the past). So it’s not surprising that photos from world tragedies are no different.

Some might argue that Twitter’s capacity to spread false information is more than cancelled out by self-correction tweets. For those more informed perhaps, they will usually go to Twitter first to learn about an event, and then go directly back to mainstream media to read about the story.

Social media can be unreliable

Social media can be a powerful tool but, in some cases, it can be an unreliable one.  Doctored or Photoshopped pictures of Hurricane Sandy that flooded the internet, aren't the first fakes to do so.

Especially during this year,  a politically charged one for both China and the USA,  the Internet's half truths and outright lies are really ramping up. If we are to take a stab in the dark at how much of this information is fake, we’d have to say at least half of it.

If you can post a photo or a video, they are 54-60 percent more likely to be clicked, liked, commented on or shared versus a post that is all copy.

There are plenty of ways to verify fake photos, videos and news.

Snopes.com is a well-known fact-checking website.  The shark photo above was first circulated in 2011 and was taken in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Irene. The shark photo was shared 7,000 times in the United States before it started making the rounds on a Twitter-like website in China.

We all know about the power of social media to bring people together and help spread information quickly. But does this recent spate of fake images  remind us of social media’s dangers? Do the images passed around intentionally spread false information?

Social media’s rapid-fire nature remains central to its appeal, but viral messages like these are very difficult to disprove in real-time.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing will certainly happen again. How can we prevent mass confusion in the case of public emergencies? That’s a good question with no clear answer.

Mike Fromowitz



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