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Fake photos of Hurricane Sandy circulate through social media

As Hurricane Sandy approached the center of New York, social media allowed the rest of the nation to see the natural disaster through powerful images.  Photos from the storm and flood were all over Twitter and Facebook feeds. As these indescribable photos captivated us, we retweeted and reposted for the rest of our friends to see. Although many of these photos were real, how many of them were fake?

A viral photo of Hurricane Sandy supposedly approaching the Statue of Liberty had been altered.

Photos actually taken during Hurricanes Isaac, Irene and Katrina were passed off as Hurricane Sandy pictures.  Beyond not being current, many were altered in Photoshop. Yet they were retweeted or reposted without verification. A viral photograph purportedly showing Hurricane Sandy descending in New York was really a photo from a thunderstorm in Manhattan in 2011.

The Atlantic started to verify Sandy photographs that had gone viral on many social media sites. Luckily, journalists can use many tools to prevent the spread of manipulated images.  TinEye.com finds where an image came from, how long it has been used and if modified versions exist. Istwitterwrong.tumblr.com is cataloging fake photos, making it another great reference for journalists. It includes another viral photograph of soldiers standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Sandy, and it mentions that the photo was retweeted by The Washington Post. The tweet was deleted because the photo was actually taken in September, not during Sandy.

How can journalists work harder to avoid this?  Hopefully, The Washington Post has learned a valuable lesson with images. How many mistakes does it take news organizations to lose all credibility? To avoid retweeting a fake photo on Twitter it is important to look at the account that you are taking it from. Journalists should always be suspicious of new accounts and make sure that they analyze the Twitter feed. Some good questions to ask are: What does this source usually tweet about? Where does this source say they’re located? How often are they using social media? It only takes seconds to check the weather reports. Craig Silverman of The Poynter Institute emphasizes that it’s important to reference  weather sources, maps and even existing images  before posting an image.

Remember, as journalists being right is more important than being first even with breaking news. It is just as important to verify a photograph’s credibility as it is to check facts in a news story. Especially in a tweet, mistaken information will spread quicker than any correction. Twitter, TweetDeck and Hootsuite do not offer any type of correction function — yet. Put simply, if  photo can’t be verified, it shouldn’t be reposted.

By Kelsey Newman

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  1. December 6, 2012 at 7:00 am

    I think you are absolutely right. Photos and information should be verified before it is retweeted. Publications will lose credibility and the readers will get the wrong story. It is important to ask basic questions before a tweet gets put onto the organization’s Twitter or Facebook feed. Verifying the authenticity of the information is key. By having the websites that are available to check the source of a photo will be helpful, especially with the prevalent use of Photoshop and other imaging software.

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