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Telling Fake Sandy Photos From Real Ones

Karin Markert

As Hurricane Sandy began to hit Washington D.C., a photo went viral: three soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a driving rain.

NPR.org called it, “one of the more stunning pictures we've come across today.”

But it turns out the photo was taken more than a month ago during a regular-old rainstorm, by a photographer whose husband is serving in the military. (Read the story about how it happened here.)

Hurricane Sandy – now Superstorm Sandy – has wrecked historic havoc. It’s created amazing real photos, like floodwater rushing into a subway station through a closed door.

Real photo from the port authority of flooding in the PATH system.

But there have been a whole crop of photos recycled from the past and just outright fakes, including:

A scuba diver in the New York subway

A shark swimming in floodwaters

And a monster wave crashing against the Statue of Liberty.

Snopes.com does a good job debunking each of these fakes.

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute’s Sense-making Project says fake photos are becoming more widespread during natural disasters for many reasons:

  1. These tools are easy to use
  2. People are homebound with lots of time to themselves
  3. In the social media world, the urge to share is great
  4. Mainstream media are relying more and more on citizen journalists

“It makes sense to rely on the audience, but journalists and citizens have to apply a vetting process,” McBride said.
There are many ways to spota fake photo, including looking for duplication or strange shadows.

One of the easiest ways, McBride said, “is to type in details of photo to Google and ask ‘Is this fake?’”

But McBride says the most useful tool is old-fashioned critical thinking.

“When you have the reaction, ‘Oh my God, look at that,’ you have to recognize it for what it is…just too good to be true,” she said.

Scott Finn is a former news director at WUSF Public Media, which provides in-depth reporting for Tampa Bay and all of Florida.
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