We debunked a lot of fake viral photos this year. Eighty-six, to be exact. And that doesn’t even include all those fake toilet photos from the Sochi Olympics, those fake Ebola cures, and all the lies that UberFacts helped spread. It was a busy year for fakes.
Below, a recap of 2014’s fake viral images, all in one place for your perusing pleasure.
1) Is this a photo of John Lennon playing guitar with Che Guevara?
Can you believe John Lennon once sat down and played guitar with revolutionary Marxist icon (and world-renowned t-shirt logo) Che Guevara? Well, don’t. Because he didn’t.
The photo is a photoshop job in which someone plastered Che’s face on top of the body of guitarist Wayne “Tex” Gabriel. Below, the actual photo of Lennon and Gabriel.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via @HistoryInPics
2) Is this a photo of JFK and Marilyn Monroe cuddling?
No, that photo on the left doesn’t depict an unguarded moment of affection between President John F. Kennedy and actress Marilyn Monroe. It’s the work of artist Alison Jackson, who’s known for her photos using lookalikes of famous people. And it’s a damn good lookalike.
The real photo on the right is from a May 19, 1962 party that followed a Democratic fundraiser in New York. Monroe and Kennedy were never actually caught in a secretive embrace — not on film, anyway.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via @HistoryPixs
3) Are people in smog-choked Beijing watching fake sunrises?
A photograph represents a single moment in time. So even an honest photo can lie when you don’t have enough information.
This Getty photo was passed around last week by the Daily Mail as a peek into a dystopian world where Beijing’s only glimpse of the sun comes from digital screens. And yes, the smog is horrible in China right now. But the story is misleading.
In reality, the photo shows a Chinese tourism ad for Shandong province playing on a giant video screen in Tiananmen Square. As the Tech in Asia blog points out, the sun only appears on the screen for a brief period of time as part of a longer ad. The ad also plays year-round, no matter how bad the smog might be.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via Mail Online
4) Is this photo from a Soviet mental institution in 1952?
No, that bizarre photo on the left isn’t some supernatural weirdness from a Russian mental institution in 1952. It’s from Pina Bausch‘s performance art dance show, Blaubart. A screenshot from a 1977 performance is on the right.
The photo did inspire some freaky fiction though: American Horror Story recreated the scenefor an episode in season 3.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via @DisturbingPix
5) Is this a photo of JFK and his daughter Caroline?
HistoryInPics recently tweeted the image on the left, claiming that it showed President John F. Kennedy with his daughter Caroline. According to this enormously popular (and frequently incorrect) Twitter account, the young girl is wearing a mask made to look like her father.
But if something doesn’t look quite right, that’s because this, of course, is a face-swapped version of the original photo. That would be one hell of a mask though, right?
Inaccurate fun fact photo via @HistoryInPics
6) Were these children actually mailed through the US Postal Service?
They’re adorable photos. And horrifying stories. Did people actually used to toss a few stamps on children and send them through the mail? Not exactly.
There are indeed a handful of documented cases of Americans “mailing” their children in the early 1910s. But there are two important caveats to this oft-repeated fun fact. First, the photos that have been making the rounds on historical Twitter accounts don’t actually show children being mailed. According to the Smithsonian, they were gag photos meant as a laugh. And secondly, this isn’t what they mean by “mailing” a child.
For instance, when 6-year-old May Pierstorff was “mailed” February 19, 1914 from Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents house 73 miles away, she was in the care of a relative who worked for the train company. Essentially, it was cheaper to call the young girl “mail” and send her on the train with her relative than buying a full-priced ticket.
Back in 2009 Catherine Shteynberg over at the Smithsonian wrote a follow-up clarifying the baby mail story, which had gone viral:
Clearly, many were startled and amazed by this photo of a postal carrier with a child in his mail bag, and so for some clarification, I spoke to Nancy Pope, historian at the National Postal Museum. She reiterated the information from the Flickr caption for this photograph: first, that this photo was actually a staged piece, and second, that there is little evidence that babies were sent through the mail other than in two known cases in which children were placed on train cars as “freight mail” as this was cheaper than buying them a regular train ticket.
There are no doubt authentic stories of children being put in the hands of U.S. postal workers between 1913 and 1915. But when you dig a bit deeper, most of these stories have caveats that make them slightly less horrifying.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via Retronaut
7) Is this a young Syrian child sleeping next to the graves of his dead parents?
The photo on the left has been making the rounds with the caption: “In Syria, sleeping between his parents.”
It’s a heart-wrenching photo. But it’s actually just part of an art project from Saudi Arabia. The photographer is a 25-year-old, named Abdul Aziz al-Otaibi, who wanted to create a photograph that showed how a child’s love for his parents is eternal. And it has nothing to do with the current humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“Look, it’s not true at all that my picture has anything to do with Syria,” Al-Otaibi told a Dutch reporter who works in the Middle East. “I am really shocked how people have twisted my picture.”
Inaccurate photo description via Imgur
8) Was Ella Fitzgerald denied a gig at the Mocambo night club in 1954 because she was black?
According to the HistoryInPics Twitter account, the Mocambo night club in West Hollywood refused to book Ella Fitzgerald in 1954 because of her race. That is, until Marilyn Monroe said she’d reserve a table in the front row for Fitzgerald’s show.
At least one part of the story is true: Marilyn Monroe did indeed help Ella Fitzgerald land a gig at the swanky hot spot Mocambo in 1954. But in fact, race wasn’t the reason that Charlie Morrison, the club’s manager, didn’t want to book Fitzgerald. Black performers had played Mocambo plenty of times in the early 1950s. But unfortunately for Fitzgerald, Morrison didn’t think she was “glamorous enough.” Monroe was a huge fan of Fitzgerald and was able to change the manager’s mind.
In her 2012 book, Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, biographer Michelle Morgan explains:
…a variety of black entertainers had been booked there long before Ella, including Dorothy Dandridge in 1951 and Eartha Kitt in 1953. The truth is that while [club manager] Charlie Morrison encouraged and applauded performers of all races in his club, he didn’t see Ella Fitzgerald as being glamorous enough to bring in the crowds. It would take Marilyn to change his mind, and once Ella had her foot in the door she successfully played at the Mocambo on a variety of occasions.
Fitzgerald and other black entertainers of the 1950s experienced appalling discrimination in the United States, which is what makes the original story so believable. But in the case of Mocambo, Monroe’s intervention wasn’t about race.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via @HistoryInPics
9) Was this man making death masks for soldiers in WWI?
Those masks hanging on the wall in this WWI-era photo aren’t death masks, as some historical Twitter accounts would have you believe. They were for WWI veterans who had suffered facial disfigurements during battle.
In a 2007 article for Smithsonian magazine, Caroline Alexander explained the valuable work that was going on at the time to give soldiers a bit of confidence. She quotes Francis Derwent Wood, who founded a mask-making unit in 1916 for men returning from battle: “My cases are generally extreme cases that plastic surgery has, perforce, had to abandon; but, as in plastic surgery, the psychological effect is the same. The patient acquires his old self-respect, self assurance, self-reliance… takes once more to a pride in his personal appearance.”
Inaccurate fun fact photo via @HistoryInPix
10) Is this a carving of Buddha at the Ngyen Khang Taksang Monastery?
No, the photo on the left doesn’t show a monastery you can actually visit, despite what Top Dreamer magazine might insist. The photoshopped image comes from an online art collective called Reality Cues and their Graffiti Lab Tumblr project. The un-altered photo on the right actually shows the Wulingyuan Scenic Area in China’s Hunan Province.
UPDATE: You can read my interview with the creator of this image here.
Inaccurate fun fact image via Top Dreamer Magazine
11) Is this device from 1922 the world’s first mobile phone?
Does this short film from 1922 actually show the world’s first mobile phone? No, no it doesn’t.
When this British Pathe archival actually shows is a crystal radio.
Back in the early 1920s, “wireless telephone” was still an accepted term for radio technology. Radio was relatively new to the masses, and the tech was still making its shift from a primarily point-to-point communications medium to a broadcast medium. But the women in the film are simply listening to a radio, and there’s no indication that the device has transceiver capabilities. You can read a more detailed dissection of the film here.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via Metro UK
12) Does this photo show the Fairy Pools on the Island of Skye in Scotland?
No, that photo on the left isn’t from the Fairy Pools of Scotland. As it turns out, the photo is actually an altered image from a river in Queenstown, New Zealand where someone has for some reason made all the trees purple. The unaltered image is still absolutely gorgeous. But obviously not “viral-gorgeous,” since the purple-soaked image is the one that’s currently making the rounds.
Inaccurate fun fact photo via Planet Earth
13) Is this a photo of the Northern Lights in Alaska?
The real Northern Lights in Alaska are supposed to be absolutely gorgeous. But sadly, that’s not what this photo is showing. It’s actually a panoramic image of the Orion Nebula, taken from the Hubble telescope.
The image is understandably quite popular on Tumblr and Twitter. But it’s a Photoshop mash-up that dates back to at least 2009. DeviantArt member Jeddaka claims to have created the mountains from scratch, though the jury’s still out on that one.
Still can’t quite spot the artistry of this beautiful fake? Check out Attila Nagy‘s wonderful GIF explainer below.
Inaccurate photo via @SciencePorn
14) Is Marlboro actually going to make marijuana cigarettes?
After both Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana last year, news spread far and wide on social media that the makers of Marlboro wanted to become the nation’s first major weed brand. Do Big Tobacco companies like Philip Morris actually want to become Big Weed? No. No they don’t.
The source for this particular fake image is a website called Abril Uno, one of those terribly unfunny Onion-wannabes with stories that ultimately gets passed around not because they’re funny, but because they’re somewhat plausible.
But the Marlboro-marijuana association is an extremely old meme. Similar images have been mocked up on everything from t-shirts to phone cases over the years, even though the cheery cancer-peddlers behind Marlboro have no intention of getting in on the wacky tobacky game.
Inaccurate photo via Abril Uno
15) Were these women being punished for witchcraft in 1922?
Contrary to what you may have read on Twitter, these women weren’t being punished for witchcraft, the photo isn’t from 1922, and they probably weren’t even real prisoners.
I emailed Jamie Carstairs, who works on the Historical Photographs of China project at the University of Bristol to ask about the photo. Carstairs described the Twitter caption as “way off the mark.”
For starters, the image actually dates back to between 1870 and 1880 and was taken by a man named William Saunders, a British-born photographer who died in 1892. The women probably weren’t prisoners at all. Experts in 19th century Chinese photography believe that the women pictured are probably just people on the streets of Shanghai who were posed in that cangue by Saunders.
Castairs directed me to a 1999 paper by Regine Thiriez, who takes a deeper look at the photo and explains why even some reputable photography books from the 1970s had misdated the image as being from 1907. Both the “witchcraft” angle and the later date of 1922 appear to be an internet fabrication.
Inaccurate photo description via @HistoricalPics
16) Is this really Audrey Hepburn dancing?
Have you ever noticed someone from a block away and thought you knew them, only to realise when you got closer that it wasn’t who you thought it was? That seems to be the case with this supposed picture of Audrey Hepburn that keeps getting passed around on social media.
The photo actually comes from a Russian stock images site. And no, that’s not the star of the classic 1957 musical Funny Face. But it is a pretty striking resemblance when you don’t have access to a higher resolution image.
Still not convinced? Take a closer look at the woman in the photo.
Inaccurate photo description via @HistoryInPics
17) Does this photo show the recent snow in Florida?
Yes, Florida did get some snow recently. But no, that photo being passed around by climate change deniers wasn’t it. This year’s snow was a bit less intense in the Sunshine State, as you can see from the Instagram photo on the right. The photo on the left dates back to at least 2010.
And no, snowstorms in the South don’t disprove the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows climate change is really happening.
18) Is this “Sad Putin” after Russia lost to Finland in hockey?
You may have seen this photo getting passed around yesterday showing a dejected Vladimir Putin after the Russian Olympic hockey team was defeated by Finland 3-1. Russia was bumped from medal contention, so it would be an understandable reaction.
But the photo isn’t actually from that game. It’s a Getty Images photo that was taken two days earlier when Russia played Slovakia. Amazingly, the Russians actually won that game 1-0. Yet another lesson that we should all be sceptical of just about every image coming out of Sochi right now.
Inaccurate photo description via the @DailyMirror
19) Is this really a double-decker bus race from 1933?
The National Archive of the Netherlands clearly archived the photo in its Flickr account under fakes, photo montages and retouched images. On the right, an actual double decker bus being tested circa 1933 to prove its stability.
Fake photo via Retronaut
20) Is this a super moon from Sequoia National Park?
Is this a photo of the “super moon” in Sequoia National Park? No. But even the experts can be fooled when it comes to beautiful fakes of nature.
The Twitter account for the National Parks Conservation Association sadly tweeted this photo from Imgur as if it were real. But as Twitter fakes sleuth @PicPedant points out, it’s actually a photo from Europe with a gigantic, glowing “moon” photoshopped in.
Fake photo via Imgur
21) Is this a photo of Civil War soldiers with a tank?
Could this really be a colour photo of Civil War soldiers posing in front of a tank? Of course not. It’s clearly a modern photo of Civil War re-enactors. But that didn’t stop one of the web’s biggest history Twitter accounts from tweeting it out as real.
Someone recently started an account called @AhistoricalPics, poking fun at the inaccuracies of accounts like @HistoryInPics and @HistoryInPix. The parody account tweets out obviously false facts, and silly photoshopped creations. But amazingly, the folks behind @HistoryInPix didn’t get the joke. They took that obviously mislabeled photo from the parody account and presented it as real.
Confederate General Benjamin Franklin must be rolling over in his grave.
22) Was this a place for disposing of ugly children?
That’s not very nice, is it? No, that cruel photo of an “ugly child” making the rounds isn’t real. It’s a poorly rendered photoshop. Well, at least the sign is. The original photo can be found at the Getty Images and clearly shows that the sign actually reads: “Please Keep Off The Grass.”
Admittedly, it’s still not clear why that young girl is stuck in a trash bin. But we can hope that it’s just a momentarily posed joke by a weirdo photographer in 1928. The past was pretty weird on its own. One wonders why so many people keep trying to make it even weirder.
Fake photo via @History_Pics
23) Is this a photo from the International Space Station?
No, this isn’t a solar eclipse as seen from the International Space Station.
Space photo researcher @FakeAstropix keeps debunking this one, but it keeps popping up in every corner of the internet. Which is why it’s earned our top spot today. It’s actually a rendering from DeviantArt user A4size-ska. Beautiful, but totally fake.
Fake image via @planetepics
24) Did these women cause an accident wearing shorts in 1937?
According to Twitter accounts like HistoricalPics, the sight of two women wearing shorts in public for the very first time in 1937 was scandalous enough to cause the car accident above. Except that it didn’t. And it wasn’t the first time women wore shorts in public.
I contacted the City of Toronto Archives, and asked them about the image. They confirmed the date of the photo (1937) and said that it was not only staged, but that they have plenty of other photos of women wearing shorts that predate this one. Shorts weren’t common quite yet, but they were certainly around.
And if you spend even half a second looking at the image, you’ll notice plenty of clues that it’s a staged photo. The car doesn’t have a single dent. Those cheeky Canadians could’ve achieved a much more authentic look by plowing that car into a light pole at high speed. Go big or go home, historical photo spoofers! 23
Inaccurate photo description via @HistoricalPics
25) Did Steven Seagal give Vladimir Putin bunny ears?
No, Steven Seagal didn’t actually give Vladimir Putin “bunny ears” at a recent press event.
Despite getting to the front page of Reddit — an internet website that men’s rights activists keep telling me is the “front page of the internet” itself — this is a poorly done Photoshop job. The original image is from Getty and was taken back in March of 2013. But yes, Steven Seagal really does hang out with his bro Vlad. I bet they’re big fans of Reddit.
26) Is this Marilyn Monroe and JFK in a private embrace?
If it feels like we’ve been down this road before, it’s because we have. There are no known photos of JFK and Marilyn Monroe in a tender, romantic embrace. The photos above were taken by Alison Jackson, an artist well known for using lookalike models for photo-fakes of everyone from the Queen of England on the toilet to Bill Gates using Apple products.
Fake photos via @ClassicPix
27) Is this a security camera outside George Orwell’s house?
No, that’s not actually a CCTV camera outside George Orwell’s old house. It’s a photoshopped image by Steve Ullathorne that first took the internet by storm in February 2012. And it’s making the rounds yet again.
Ullathorne has an entire series of these photoshopped images that juxtapose buildings of historical significance with modern day flourishes — like that image on the right, showing a Che Guevara shirt hanging near a plaque about Karl Marx.
Inaccurate image representation from @PharmaGossip
28) Is this 1950s “Rocket to Uranus” album real?
No, this isn’t a 1950s album cover for “Rocket to Uranus” made by oblivious people of a more earnest and naive era. It’s a fake.
Kids of the 1950s couldn’t get enough space age stories. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was just one of many space age characters that young baby boomers were obsessed with. Corbett was everywhere: in comic books, on radio, plastered on lunchboxes and starring in an incredibly popular TV show during the 1950s.
In 1951, a Tom Corbett record was released called “Space Cadet Song and March.” But that “Rocket to Uranus” version on the left is a modern day Photoshop job.
29) Is this real candy that was branded by the Nazis?
In the 1930s and 40s, the Nazis put swastikas on everything. But this image actually isn’t a photo from that period. It’s from a 1983 movie.
To investigate this image I first contacted Dr. Nicholas O’Shaughnessy at Queen Mary University of London, who has studied the Nazis’ use of the swastika as a branding tool. He explained that he’d never seen this particular image but that, “it is quite possibly genuine as German businesses outdid each other in excesses of kitsch, including the Horst Wessel song in barbershop harmony and a butcher who sculpted Hitler out of lard.”
I was ready to call this photo “probably authentic” and move on, until Twitter photo sleuth Joe Kname uncovered the real story behind this image. Kname discovered that it’s a film still from the 1983 movie Eine Liebe In Deutschland (A Love in Germany). It’s still plausible that Nazi-branded candy was produced, as O’Shaughnessy notes that they really did put swastikas on everything. But this particular image isn’t from that era, as so many historical photo accounts online claim.
Inaccurate image description via @HistoryInPics
30) Is this a Captain America war bonds poster from World War II?
It wouldn’t be a fake viral image round-up without a visit to Retronaut, and this time we have a real doozy. No, that Captain America war bonds poster from their site isn’t real.
Captain America first debuted in 1941, which makes it possible that he would have helped with the war effort through various propaganda posters. But no, the image on the left isn’t from World War II. It’s a 21st century artist’s interpretation of what a faux-retro Captain America war bonds poster might look like. The big give-away — aside from the style itself — is the ScorpioSteele.com logo right next to Captain America’s boot.
31) Is this a real pilot selfie?
No, this isn’t the world’s greatest selfie. Though it might be if it were real.
As you can see from the original untouched photo on the right, this selfie is totally fake. It literally says “perspective” on the plane, so despite the fact that so many people are taking this as real, one has to believe that the creator clearly made it as a joke not to be taken seriously.
32) Is this a real giant grasshopper from 1937?
Thankfully, the image on the left doesn’t show a real grasshopper from 1937. Pre-Photoshop fakes showing impossibly large food and animals were incredibly popular on postcards and tongue-in-cheek promotional materials in the early 20th century. But alas, Montana doesn’t have grasshoppers that big.
Now that woman riding a rabbit, on the other hand…
33) Is this Los Angeles during the 1994 blackout?
Much of Los Angeles suffered a power outage after the city’s devastating 6.7 earthquake in 1994. The blackout decreased the city’s light pollution and residents got a rare look at the stars as they hadn’t seen them before. But no, the image above doesn’t show that blackout in 1994.
Photographer Thierry Cohen creates photo mash-ups depicting the night sky over major cities, as if all the lights had gone out. And Cohen’s image above (just one in a series) is now getting shared online to tell the story of how some people in L.A. reportedly called police to ask about the “strange sky” they were seeing after the quake.
But the story of panicked Angelenos who were supposedly terrified of the stars seems to become more and more exaggerated with each passing year. It may have actually happened, but I have yet to actually verify one case of someone calling 911 about any strange lights in the sky. However, the local Griffith Observatory has confirmed they got calls with questions about the stars. The naive, freaked out Angeleno makes for an amusing story. But much of it, like the image above, is a bit of an exaggeration.
Inaccurate photo description via BestOfCosmos
34) Is this a real underwater train in Denmark?
No, this isn’t an underwater train route in Denmark. According to a photo-sleuth on Reddit, the train stop that this purports to be actually looks like this. Perfectly pleasant indeed, but far less impressive than an underwater train.
Fake image via GooglePics
35) Is this George Orwell holding a puppy?
Yes, George Orwell did serve as a soldier during the Spanish Civil War. But no, the man holding the puppy above isn’t George Orwell.
Orwell wrote an entire book about his experiences there, titled Homage to Catalonia. And the photo above has spread far and wide online. But the man holding the puppy doesn’t even look like Orwell. However, as photo debunking site Hoax of Fame points out (and Getty Imagesconfirms), that really is Ernest Hemingway in the background wearing glasses.
Below we have an actual photo of Orwell from the Spanish Civil War. That tall man with the mustache standing in the back? That’s him.
Inaccurate photo description via Historical Times
36) Do these photos show Leonardo DiCaprio 20 years apart?
According to HistoryInPics, the photo in the middle shows actor Leonardo DiCaprio at 19, while the one of the right shows him at 39. What did Leo actually look like at 19? The picture on the far left is from the premiere of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Inaccurate photo descriptions via HistoryInPics
37) Is this an elephant rock carving?
No, that image on the left isn’t a real carving of an elephant. It’s computer-generated, much like the one we looked at a few months ago. The image on the right is a 1995 Associated Press photo of Packy the elephant at the Portland Zoo, which I’ve included just because I like elephants.
Fake image via GiveMeInternet
38) Does this image show all the satellites orbiting Earth?
It’s a stunning image of the world completely surrounded by satellites. It even looks like something straight from WALL-E — so much so that it doesn’t look real. And that’s because it isn’t.
Some people posting this viral image have been writing things like “the image speaks for itself.” Well, no. It doesn’t. Because the image gives people the impression that if you took a photo from space, this is what earth’s satellites would look like.
It’s an artist’s impression of the number of satellites, but it’s virtually useless because it’s not at all to scale. The European Space Agency includes a disclaimer that’s almost always cropped out when people pass this computer-generated image around online:
Note: The debris field shown in the image is an artist’s impression based on actual data. However the image does not show debris items in their actual size or density.
Inaccurate image description via ValaAfshar
39) Is this the first ambulance ever?
According to the National Archive, the photo above was taken around 1865. But no, it’s not the first ambulance ever, as some history-focused Twitter accounts would lead you to believe. The photo probably shows the very first ambulance that the U.S. Navy Yard on Mare Island, CA had available for its use.
But in this bizarre game of telephone we call the internet, that context has been lost completely. You only need to read the title of the 1992 book From Farmcarts to Fords: A History of the Military Ambulance, 1790-1925 to quickly realise that ambulances certainly predate 1865.
Inaccurate photo description via @HistoryPix
40) Is this a real underwater hotel?
Could this be a real underwater hotel in Katafanga Island, Fiji? Sadly, no.
The images are from a 2008 proposal from Poseidon Undersea Resorts for an underwater hotel. The mock-ups do indeed look amazing. But they’re not real hotel rooms and probably never will be. At least not on that private island in Fiji. Even if the hotel finally does get built, a vacation there will set you back a pretty penny. Reservations for a week’s stay were reportedly going to cost $US30,000.
Fake photo via AMAZlNGPICTURES
41) Is this the tallest statue in the world?
This statue of Buddha in Ushiku Daibutsu, Japan is claimed by some people online to be the tallest statue in the world. Except that it’s not. It’s actually the third largest statute.
The one in Japan is 110 meters tall (360 ft) while the second tallest is in Burma standing at 116 meters (381 ft). The tallest statue in the world is actually in China, towering over the people of Lushan, Henan at 128 meters (420 ft).
Inaccurate photo description via Imgur
42) Are these the dumbest firefighters ever?
Notice anything wrong with the photo above? If you answered “possible train derailment,” you win!
When firefighters put down a hose that cars may need to drive over, they can use those little ramps so that it doesn’t restrict the flow of water. Of course, that wouldn’t work with a train and as the debunking site Hoax of Fame points out, the set-up was a joke.
The firefighters were just having a chucklegoof, according to their Facebook. Apparently those particular train tracks weren’t even in service, and (thankfully) those firefighters weren’t actually that dumb.
Joke photo via Facebook
43) Is this a full moon as seen in Brazil?
People on the internet love landscape photos with giant moons. They’re right up there with cat pictures and videos of hamsters eating tiny versions of Mexican food. Unfortunately, many of the giant moon photos you’ll find online are fakes. As the photo debunking Twitter account FakeAstroPix points out, the photo above can also be tossed on the fakes pile.
Fake image via FascinatingPics
44) Is this a photo of the supermoon over Rio de Janeiro?
Everybody loves a good ” supermoon” photo. But sadly, so many of them are fake. Like this one, which gets passed around all the time as a supermoon shot from Rio de Janeiro.
Buzzfeed even included it in a sponsored post titled “20 Amazing Photos You Don’t Want to Miss.” Feel free to miss this one. The original photo of Rio de Janeiro at night (seen below) is from 2008 and was taken by Mexican photographer Horacio Montiel. It’s a gorgeous photo. Too bad somebody had to ruin it with a goofy supermoon.
45) Is this Hunter Thompson and Bill Murray on a boat?
Yes, Bill Murray and Hunter S. Thompson used to hang out — especially during the lead-up to the 1980 movie Where The Buffalo Roam. And yes, this photo is real. Well, except for all the photoshopped parts.
The real photo is on the right. The photoshopped image is on the left, and it shows Thompson wearing a t-shirt with a naughty word and Murray asking for some hypothetical person to purchase him a brunch-time meal under the threat of gun-based violence. Not very nice at all.
I suspect neither Thompson (RIP) nor Murray would approve of this fake photo sullying their angelic reputations.
Photoshopped image via HistoryInPics
46) Is this what happens when lightning strikes sand?
As Scientific American points out, this photo doesn’t actually show what happens when lightning strikes sand. It’s an art project designed and photographed in Puerto Rico by Flickr user SandCastleMatt. Interestingly, it’s only the left half of a much larger sand sculpture that can be seen in context below.
When lightning strikes sand it can form what are called fulgurites. But they tend to be much smaller and penetrate into the sand, rather than pulling sand upward, as this art project might imply after getting run through the great internet confusion machine a few dozen times.
47) Is this Mahatma Gandhi dancing?
Despite what the infamously terrible Twitter account HistoryInPics might want you to believe, that’s not actually a photo of Gandhi dancing. Apparently it’s an Australian actor.
Inaccurate photo description via HistoryInPics; Real photo of Gandhi via Getty Images
48) Is this really a sex education class in 1929?
As one photo-sleuth from Reddit points out, this isn’t a photo from a sex-ed class in the 1920s. It’s actually from a 1929 movie called The Wild Party, directed by Dorothy Arzner and starring Clara Bow. It’s unclear precisely what’s going on in this shot from the film (sadly, I’ve never seen the movie) but you can watch clips from it on YouTube.
As a pre-Code film, it probably does have more than its fair share of sex and debauchery. If anyone finds a link to where we can pick up a copy of The Wild Party, please do share it with the class. The movie appears to be unavailable in any form.
49) Is this [Warning: disturbing image] a newborn elephant?
Yes, that is an elephant in the photo on the left. But it’s not the adorable newborn photo that so many are making it out to be. It’s actually a dead elephant foetus.
You can read more about the dead elephant and its exploitation on Facebook and Twitter over at Snopes. People are commonly asked to pray for this “newborn” elephant, or are claiming it’s the smallest elephant ever born. But for the record, the photo on the right is a baby elephant that was very much alive when the photo was taken: two-year-old Nayan at the Chester Zoo in England back in 2012. Sadly, Nayan died last year.
Inaccurate photo description via ThatsEarth; 2012 photo of baby elephant Nayan via Getty
50) Are these babies really for sale?
No, these babies aren’t being put up for sale by desperate parents. But as HoaxofFame points out, they’re part of a series of postcards from the turn of the 20th century that were intended to be humorous. Poor kiddos don’t look too happy to be participating in the joke.
Inaccurate photo description via History_Pics
51) Are these sunken ships in the Bermuda Triangle?
No, these aren’t sunken ships washed up on a sandbar near the Bermuda Triangle. The photo actually shows the Tangalooma Wrecks in Queensland, Australia. The 15 boats were intentionally sunk back in the 1960s to create an artificial reef and are now a tourist attraction.
52) Is this actually Alfred Hitchcock floating in a river?
No, that’s not actually Alfred Hitchock floating down the Thames. It’s a dummy that was used to film the trailer for his 1972 film Frenzy. On the right we see the real Hitch holding his own fake head.
There’s been a trend recently where historical pictures accounts have simply started posting old photos of celebrities. But even those aren’t a safe bet for them to be accurate.
They have posted fake photos of Audrey Hepburn, a few of JFK, and lots of fake Marilyn Monroes. At this point it’s clear that many are just treading water until they’re eventually sold to the highest bidder for their follower counts.
53) Is this tarantula actually missing in New York?
No, there isn’t a deadly, pregnant tarantula missing in Park Slope. As Gawker’s Antiviral points out, lots of sites (including Gawker) fell for this prank poster. Let’s just hope this doesn’t turn into one of those boy-who-cried-tarantula situations.
Fake poster via Reddit
54) Is this really the pyramids of Egypt at sunset?
People love taking photos of the pyramids in Egypt. They have aged so gracefully they deserve their own mansplained Esquire profile or something. But that picture you may have seen recently of the sun setting behind the pyramids is a total fake. As internet photo-fakes sleuth@PicPedant points out, the original photo is most likely by Mario Moreno.
55) Is this a real ad for veggie burgers made with real beef?
“At last! A veggie burger that contains REAL BEEF!” Well, no. Slate points to Reddit detectives who have determined that as much as the internet wants this one to be some hilarious mix-up, it’s actually a fake ad from the British humo[u]r magazine Viz. Oh, those cheeky Brits.
56) Is this a Soviet-era beach?
The image above has been passed around with the caption, “Many old Soviet photos look like science fiction film posters.” Unfortunately, it would indeed be more appropriate for a sci-fi movie poster, because it’s a fake.
The beach scene is actually from Copacabana Beach in Brazil. As for the space age building towering above? That’s the National Library of Belarus, opened in 2006, which is notably nowhere near a beach. Below, a proper photo of the library.
57) Is this the first selfie ever taken?
No, this isn’t the first selfie ever taken, despite what some internet history sites insist. Not by a long shot. They’re real photos from around 1920 submitted by a Quora user, purportedly of his grandfather and friends. But they’re not the first selfies.
Here in the early 21st century we seem obsessed with what is and is not considered a selfie. The word alone evokes a “get off my lawn, you damn kids” reaction in so many people, and some cultural commentators even insist it’s a sign of our increasingly narcissistic times. But self-portraits are as old as photography itself.
Below, a photo of the December 1920 photograph in question with some more context on the left, and a much older “selfie” taken by Robert Cornelius dating back to 1839 on the right.
58) Will Mars and the moon appear to be the same size on August 27th?
If you look up into the night sky tomorrow will you see Mars appear as large as the moon? Sadly, no. This dumb hoax is passed around nearly every year, often with the promise that no one alive today has ever seen this phenomenon and that it won’t happen again for hundreds of years. It’s obviously bullshit (and raises the question of why Mars would suddenly look exactly like the moon?) but sometimes even the most obvious bullshit needs to be called out to help stop it from spreading online. Ignore this one in your Facebook feeds today.
Fake image via HempandHerb
59) Is this a New York City traffic jam in 1909?
Poor Chicago; always the Second City to New York’s fame. Even in history, Chicago can’t seem to get its due. Like in this photo that’s getting passed around on Imgur, Reddit, and Twitter, purporting to show a New York City traffic jam in 1909. It’s actually from Chicago. Specifically, at the intersection of Dearborn and Randolph. A colorized postcard version of the image appears on the right.
A minor correction in the grand scheme of things? Sure. But a necessary one as incredibly popular Twitter accounts like HistoryInPics continue to amass thousands of followers (that one alone is up to 1.8 million total), and continue spreading misinformation.
60) Is this a KKK member treated by an all-black emergency room staff?
No, this photo of an emergency room filled with black doctors and nurses saving a member of the KKK isn’t real. As Snopes discovered, it’s from a series of staged photos which ran as a magazine ad campaign that was ostensibly about restoring faith in humanity. Or something.
However, throughout history there have been plenty of cases of idiotic hate-mongers being saved and protected by the people they hate. The photo below of a black woman in 1996 defending a white supremacist from being physically beaten is real. Keshia Thomas used her body as a human shield to protect a suspected KKK sympathizer at a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Inaccurate photo description via RocketNews24; Real photo via AP
61) Is this a photo of the Supermoon?
Nothing brings out the photoshopped landscapes quite like supermoon hype. No, the photo above isn’t real. Even the real “supermoon” isn’t that impressive to the naked eye. A supermoon occurs when the moon is about 6 per cent closer to Earth than average. Not a big deal — it happens three times this year alone — and not enough to make images like the photo above without a heavy dose of photoshop.
And if it helps give you some perspective on the science-full-ness of the entire supermoon concept, remember that the term was supposedly coined by an astrologer, not an astronomer.
Fake image via Stephen Stanton
62) Are these strange clouds over Mount Fuji real?
Lenticular clouds sure are cool looking. But the image on the left is just a Photoshop job. This fake image has been around for at least a couple of years now, but it keeps getting passed around as real again and again. Stop it, guys. Just stop.
Fake image via @BrilliantPosts
63) Are these the founders of Harley-Davidson?
In the early 1900s William Harley, his friend Arthur Davidson and many of Davidson’s family members all teamed up in Milwaukee to create one of the most iconic companies of 20th century America: Harley-Davidson motorcycles. But is the photo above really of William Harley and Arthur Davidson in 1914? Nope.
The always amazing PicPedant did a little research on this photo only to discover that (surprise! surprise!) it’s not what so many people on the internet claim it to be. Turns out the photo is just two random motorcycle enthusiasts from Minnesota.
From a Harley-Davidson fan page where the image first appeared online:
I was enjoying your page with all the old Harleys and remembered that I have a photo of my cousin’s grandfather and his grandfather’s brother each sitting on the brand new 1914 Harleys that they purchased in 1914. I am not sure, but I believe the photo may have been taken at the dealership (probably not realy a dealership back then, but the guy must have been an HD distributer) in Wanamingo, MN.
64) Is this the Heart River in North Dakota?
People pick on North Dakota. So it’s nice when the state gets a little love. But sadly the love heaped upon it by the internet recently is for something not real.
The Heart River is very much a real river in North Dakota. But the image above was created by the Vienna Paint digital art studio. The real Heart River looks nothing like that from the air.
Fake photo via @Alluniques
65) Is this lightning striking a tree?
Nope. This is a long-exposure light manipulation photo with a lightning bolt photoshopped in. As the Museum of Hoaxes points out, this image was created by Darren Pearson, who also goes by the name Darius Twin. Pearson does some very cool work, but they’re all heavily manipulated photos in some form or another.
Fake image via @MindBlowing
66) Is this the space shuttle breaching the clouds?
It’s a cool image, but of course it’s too good to be true. The creator of the image on the left, Richard Silvera says quite plainly, “This image is a composite of 2 pictures.” An almost equally cool photo that shows the space shuttle Challenger still on the ground in November of 1982 is on the right and is definitely real.
Fake image via @EarthPix
67) Is this a picnic on an American highway during the 1973 oil crisis?
I’ve always wondered about this photo, since I’ve seen it pass through my social media streams at least a dozen times in the last year. It purports to show Americans having a picnic on a major freeway in 1973. The 1970s oil crisis was devastating to American motorists. There were shortages and Americans often had to wait in long lines to fill up their tanks. But the highways didn’t suddenly become empty.
Well, as Hoax of Fame points out, the photo isn’t American at all. The image actually comes from The Netherlands. It was taken in 1973 when the country imposed “Car-Free Sundays” which would occur periodically during the 1973-74 oil crisis.
Below, another photo from a car-free Sunday in 1973.
Inaccurate photo description via @HistoricalPics
68) Is a this a meteor over Stonehenge in England?
No, that’s not a meteor over Stonehenge (or Stonehedge, as this misleading tweet calls it). For whatever reason this image just won’t die, getting passed around on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr again and again. The photo shows a very real fireball meteor over Oklahoma in 2008. But some jerk put it behind Stonehenge and suddenly it just won’t go away no matter how many times astronomy sleuths like FakeAstropix debunk it.
Fake image via @Globe_pics
69) Is this photo of “kissing islands” in Greenland real?
No, those aren’t islands that just happen to look like they’re human faces tenderly kissing. It’s yet another ad campaign. But strangely, some people are cropping out the Pfizer logo and claiming that they’re real islands. The Italian branch of international ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi appears to have come up with this one.
On the right, another image from the campaign that appears to show some kind of brain/headache message. And since Pfizer makes Viagra, we might safely assume the one on the left is for that little blue pill? Either way, it’s as fake as they come.
Fake photo via Tumblr
70) Is this Europe and the United States at night from space?
No, these aren’t photos of Earth’s lights from space. As PicPedant points out, they’re actually visualizations of Flickr and Twitter geolocations. But even this assertion is hard to confirm. The red dots are supposedly locations of Flickr pictures. The blue dots? Tweets.
There’s an entire Flickr album with more images, though again it’s hard to be sure precisely how the maps were created since there’s no explanation. The only thing we can say for certain: These aren’t pictures of Earth’s lights from space.
71) Is this Marilyn Monroe reading a book in Spanish?
Marilyn Monroe was a voracious reader. She had an impressive personal library and there are lot of photos of her reading. But the photo of her on the left is a photoshop job. She wasn’t reading Confesiones Silenciosas (translated: Silent Confessions).
The real photo on the right shows her reading Arthur Miller’s adaptation of the Ibsen play, An Enemy of the People. Monroe was married to Miller from 1956 until 1961.
72) Is this NASA announcing that we’ll have 6 days of complete darkness in December?
“Comedy” sites like Huzlers have run with the story that there will be six consecutive days of darkness in December due to a “solar storm” that will cause “dust and space debris” to block out the sun. But don’t believe it.
The coming days of darkness will supposedly last from the 16th until the 22nd of December and the Huzlers story even has fake quotes from NASA officials. Other sites have claimed there will be three days of complete darkness. Neither of these claims is true (unless you live in Minnesota, where you actually won’t see the sun until April*). But the lie is spreading quickly on both Twitter and Facebook.
The freak “days of darkness” prediction is a common internet hoax and variations spread so far and wide that NASA has even had to debunk these claims sometimes, like they did in 2012.
*I kid, Minnesota. Just telling a chucklegoof, as a former Minnesotan.
Fake image via Huzlers
73) Does Monsters, Inc. really have a hidden naughty picture?
Have you seen that screenshot from the 2001 Pixar film Monsters, Inc showing a stick figure drawing of “uncel roger” and “mummy” having sex? Totally fake.
As the debunker website Waffles at Noon points out there’s even a YouTube video of the scene that someone has concocted. But again, it’s not real. The actual footage shows that it’s clearly not there.
Below, the original screenshot from the film sans-naughty stick figures.
Fake screenshot of Monsters, Inc via Reddit
74) Is this a real black lion?
No, that’s not a black lion. But for whatever reason you can find lots of black lions photoshopped from your standard Simba-style lion (and even albino lions) all over the internet. They look pretty badass. But sadly they’re not real.
75) Is this manta ray captured in 1933 real?
Enormous manta rays like this do exist. But the photo above depicting Captain A.L. Kahn in 1933 with a giant manta is almost certainly a fake. The big clues? The manta ray pictured is far too rigid (real giant manta rays are floppy when hoisted up), there’s a seam that you can see running through the middle, and the biggest hint: the thing doesn’t have an anus.
Postcards and news photos, (like the postcard below) didn’t show the seam and whatever that little bit of light-coloured fabric might be near the tail. It’s hard not to conclude that there’s something fishy going on here. Get it? Fishy.
Below, a photo of an actual manta ray caught in 1932 off the coast of Hollywood, Florida by Captain Jay Gould. The June 1932 issue of the Louisiana Conservation Review also includes the photo. Notice that it looks a lot more floppy and life-like.
Deep Sea News has done a bit of digging to investigate the suspicious Captain Kahn photo. They discovered similar looking fake manta ray construction photos at the American Museum of Natural History from 1917, pictured below. And though they’re not the same fake manta from the 1930s, they show you just how one could construct such a thing. James Bell made all kind of models for the Natural History museum, like this giraffe in 1928.
My own guess is that it’s the Captain Kahn manta ray is a plaster cast of a real manta that he indeed captured. There’s sufficient evidence that people have made plaster casts of real giant mantas, like in this photo from 1964. And it’s the most logical way to put the manta on tour with a circus company, which Kahn did for at least a couple of years.
I searched through newspaper archives from the mid-1930s and found that the manta ray photos of Captain Kahn were making the rounds in 1933 and that eventually the “Great Manta” was travelling throughout the U.S. in 1934 and 35 as a sideshow act amongst “World’s Fair Freaks.”
Below, a flyer for the “Great Manta” exhibition in 1934 from Mike’s Maritime Memorabilia. Notice that the manta pictured is a bit more floppy than the photo we see getting passed around on Reddit and Twitter, and more like the manta captured in Florida.
76) Is this a photo of the Statue of Liberty during Hurricane Sandy?
Some people commemorated the anniversary of Hurricane (or, more accurately Superstorm) Sandy this week. But no, that image of the Statue of Liberty being inundated with waves isn’t real. It’s from the 2004 movie, The Day After Tomorrow. Shockingly, a number of reputable news sources still ran with it on social media.
Fake photo via NYCAlerts
77) Is this a bike on Vashon Island that was abandoned for 100 years?
The kids’ bicycle embedded into a tree is a bit of a tourist attraction on Vashon Island, Washington, just outside of Seattle. But it’s not a century old, as so many social media accounts are claiming.
It’s actually from the 1950s. As PicPedant and Snopes point out, the bicycle is believed to have been abandoned on that tree in the mid-1950s. The tree is believed to have grown around it. A local sheriff named Don Puz claims it was his bicycle, but nobody knows for certain. All that we do know is that it’s not from the 1910s. It’s almost certainly from the 1950s.
78) Is this a leopard with bright blue eyes?
No, that photo of a leopard with bright blue eyes is a lie. Well, the blue eyes part is at least. Pedantic picture sleuth PicPedant points out that the original was most likely taken in 2010 by someone on Flickr who goes by the name Flash-Joerg — though the fact that they misspelled “leopard” as “lepard” gives me pause.
79) Is this a real Halloween costume for dogs?
At first glance, this “Lifelike Baby Costume for Dogs” on Amazon looks horrifyingly legit. But upon further inspection you’ll clearly see that it’s an amazing hoax. It’s actually part of a much larger parody Amazon listing which may or may not have been created by Adult Swim. You can see the entire fake product listing below in all its fake Halloween glory.
80) Is this a hitchhiker from Woodstock in 1969?
According to HistoryInPics and your aunt’s Pinterest board of hippie nostalgia, the photo on the left shows a woman at Woodstock hitchhiking. Except that it’s not. The photo was staged for an ad campaign in 1971.
The naked hitchhiker ad was one of many in a campaign for Landlubber Clothing Company featuring people wearing nothing but their birthday suits. More ads featuring a woman on a bike and a man at a desk appear below. Apparently the idea was that if these people couldn’t find Landlubber clothes, they didn’t want to wear anything at all.
Or, more accurately, the idea was that they could turn their ads into a profitable side business selling posters that would hang in college dorms across the country. In the mid 1970s Landlubber was pulling in about $US100 million.
81) Is this a photo of JFK after he’d been shot?
Nope. It’s a reenactment that was filmed for the 1977 TV movie The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. There was no photographer hovering over the car immediately after JFK was shot. Believe me, Oliver Stone would have been all over those photos.
Fake photo description via HistoricalPics
82) Is this Barack Obama in 2009 and 2014?
The presidency certainly ages most people. But this photo from the HistoricalPics Twitter account isn’t quite true. The photo on the left which purports to be from 2009 is actually from 2005. That means that the difference between the two pictures is closer to nine years, rather than five. I can tell you I look a lot different in photos from nine years ago, and I don’t even run the country.
The weird thing: If you use a photo that’s actually from 2009 it has a similar effect, if slightly less drastic. Below on the left, a photo of Obama shortly before becoming president in January 2009. On the right, the President last week. The depressed expression on his face certainly doesn’t help him look any younger.
Fake photo description from HistoricalPics; Bottom photos via Getty
83) Is this the Christmas Truce of WWI with German and British troops playing football together?
As PicPedant points out, the photo actually just shows British troops in Salonika, Greece in 1915 playing football — known by Americans as “racquetball” if I’m not mistaken. There are no Germans in sight.
And it’s definitely not the Christmas truce of 1914 where a handful of British and German troops emerged from their trenches to meet, exchange presents, and yes, even play a little soccer.
Inaccurate image description via HistoryInPics
84) Is this really what happens when you put a cell phone in the microwave?
Their viral campaign was hosted on No-Evil.net and was meant to illustrate how terrible the competing phone companies were by forcing you to stick with contracts. Notice how the bubbling mobile phone turns into what looks like a demon? That’s no accident. It’s all computer generated imagery.
Fake gif via Learn_Things
85) Are these two happy owls?
Adorable, sure. But not real owls. Unless the clasps below are simply an owl trait that I’m unfamiliar with. You never know.
Fake photo via EARTHPlCS
86) Is this a Woodstock poster from 1969?
We started with some Woodstock fakery so we may as well end with some Woodstock fakery. Is that Woodstock poster you’ve seen circulating the Real McCoy? Sadly, no. It’s a modern day fake.
The fonts on the poster on the left are simply too modern. And they have even spelled Joan Baez’s name incorrectly! If you’re going to do a fake at least make an effort to use typefaces that predate the 1980s.
Fake image via ClassicPixs