We’ve been debunking fake photos at Gizmodo since 2013, but in the year 2017, the fakes seem to be spreading online faster than ever. Here are just a few of the images we’ve seen swirling around the internet lately. And none of them are what they appear to be at first glance.
Fake breaking news alert reading “Bannon accepts diminished role in W.H.” produced by the Daily Show (Twitter)
1) Is this a real CNN breaking news alert?
Did you see this perfectly timed news alert about US presidential adviser Steve Bannon accepting a new role in the White House? It turns out it was a bit too perfect. Which is to say it was totally fake.
The CNN screenshot went viral after it was tweeted by a TV producer named Melissa Jo Peltier. The joke, of course, is that it looks like CNN is inadvertently announcing Bannon has accepted a new role at the White House as the Easter Bunny.
It turns out that the image was actually created by the social media team at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and was tweeted out earlier in the day. The show made the same joke recenlty without the CNN breaking news bit. If you look in the upper left-hand corner you can even see a faint watermark for The Daily Show. It’s funny, but totally fake.
Fake via Twitter
Fake photo of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor that has gone viral (Twitter/Tumblr)
2) Is this Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor?
The internet loves Marilyn Monroe. But the internet is filled with a ton of fake Marilyn Monroe photos. So you can probably guess what we have to say about the photo purporting to show Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor above. That’s right, it’s phoney.
Marilyn Monroe died more than 50 years ago, but people are still obsessed with her as ever. And it was Monroe's birthday yesterday, so there's a good chance you'll see even more photos of her on Facebook and Pinterest than usual this week. But be careful, because many of them are completely fake.Read more
Photo debunker Hoaxeye points out that the photo is actually a combination of two photos. The photo of Elizabeth Taylor was taken in 1948 by Mark Kauffman.
Fake composite photo of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor (left) and a photo of Elizabeth Taylor taken in 1948 by Mark Kauffman
And the photo of Marilyn Monroe was taken at Griffith Park in Los Angeles in 1950 by Ed Clark:
Fake composite photo of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor (left) and a photo of Marilyn Monroe in 1950 by Ed Clark
It’s unclear who first created the visual mash-up, but it will probably continue circulating online until the internet itself dies and withers away. Again, the internet really loves photos of Marilyn Monroe, real or fake.
Fake via Twitter
Excerpt from a fake 19th century infographic called the Gentleman’s Guide to Amputation (Tumblr, Twitter)
3) Is this the Gentleman’s Guide to Amputation?
Have you seen this 19th century guide to amputation? It’s pretty gruesome in a stoic, matter-of-fact way. Thankfully, it isn’t real.
This fake has been swirling around for years. It was created as an infographic by an art student and then posted to Tumblr, where it quickly went viral. You’ll see it pop up again and again on those OMG HISTORY Twitter accounts. But it’s an art project, not a piece of history.
The entire fake 19th century infographic called the Gentleman’s Guide to Amputation (Tumblr, Twitter)
Fake via History Lover’s Club
4) Is this hot air balloons in the night sky?
Pictures of the sky at night are incredibly popular online. But sometimes those photos are heavily manipulated, like the image above.
As veteran photo debunker PicPedant points out, this image is a composite of two photos. The big clue? To get the stars so bright you would need to have a long exposure time, but such a long exposure would cause moving objects like the balloons to blur.
Fake via EducationalPics
GIF of a Bruce Lee look-alike playing ping pong with nunchucks in a 2008 ad for Nokia (YouTube)
5) Is this Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchucks?
Nope. This video is actually from a 2008 Nokia ad for the Nokia N96 Limited Edition Bruce Lee phone. The ad used a look-alike actor and special effects to make it look like Bruce Lee. The real Bruce Lee died in 1973.
Fake via Twitter
Fake photo purporting to show an anti-trans bus that was bombed in Spain (Twitter)
6) Is this an anti-trans bus that was bombed in Spain?
These anti-trans busses have been popping up in the US, the UK and Spain. And they have rightly become the target of protest by people who are angry at their hateful sentiment. Some of the busses have even been vandalised. But as Buzzfeed explains, images showing one such bus after a bomb explosion are a Photoshop job.
The busses are run by the National Organisation for Marriage, a Washington-based hate group. The group calls the effort a free speech campaign.
“Boys are boys and girls are girls — it’s very simple,” Brian Brown, head of the group, told USA Today about the busses. “We don’t want men in girl’s restrooms. We don’t want schools and our law attempting to say that people are bigoted simply because they understand that there’s a difference between male and female.”
It isn’t clear who first created the photoshopped busses, but the images have been used by both trans activists and anti-trans activists alike. All we know is that there haven’t been any bomb attacks on anti-trans busses in Spain or anywhere else.
Fake via Twitter
Fake Thomas Jefferson quote tweeted by Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett (Twitter)
7) Is this a real quote from Thomas Jefferson?
People love to quote America’s founding fathers to give their arguments some gravitas, but idiots on the internet help spread fake quotes from those founding fathers far and wide online. One such idiot is Congressman Tom Garrett, who represents Virginia’s 5th District. Unfortunately for the people in Mr Garrett’s district, their Congressman will tweet old quotes that are completely fake.
Recently, Congressman Garrett tweeted out this quote that’s supposed to be from Thomas Jefferson: “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalised version of the first.”
As the Jefferson Foundation explains, there’s no evidence that Jefferson actually said this. The quote actually appears to come from libertarian hero Ayn Rand.
From Rand’s 1963 essay titled “Man’s Rights” in The Virtue of Selfishness:
There are two potential violators of man’s rights: the criminals and the government. The great achievement of the United States was to draw a distinction between these two — by forbidding to the second the legalised version of the activities of the first.
So, yeah, not exactly a founding father.
Fake via Twitter
A 1949 photo from Austria of Krampus, the terrifying Christmas tradition of a half-goat, half-demon who goes after children (Flickr/Twitter)
8) Is this a creepy photo discovered in an op shop?
Have you seen this “creepy photo that was recently discovered in a thrift store” with “only the year 1922 found written on the back”? Pretty spooky, right? Well, it’s not quite what it seems.
Yes, the photo is creepy as hell, but as photo debunker Hoaxeye explains, the picture is actually from 1949 and shows a man dressed as Krampus, a terrifying half-goat, half-demon folk legend recognised in Eastern Europe as a companion to Saint Nicholas. Unlike Santa Claus, Krampus terrorises little children who are bad.
The photo was originally posted to Flickr under the caption, “Little Brother riding on Krampus Shoulders”. Still spooky? Sure. But not quite as mysterious as so many viral Twitter accounts would have you believe.
Fake via Twitter
9) Is this a real quote from Benjamin Franklin?
Again, people love to quote America’s founding fathers. But did Benjamin Franklin really say, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority”? You can probably guess by now that he didn’t.
Snopes points out that the quote might be from counterculture icon Timothy Leary, but we don’t know for sure. All we know is that there’s no evidence Ben Franklin ever said it.
People love to put words in the mouths of dead people, circulating many of the things that Albert Einstein, Walt Disney and Winston Churchill never said. But if you see this Ben Franklin quote coming from one of those GEE WHIZ HISTORY accounts, you know it’s fake.
Fake via Twitter
Is this a photo of Theresa May with the Scream painting?
Have you seen that photo of Theresa May and her fellow Tories in front of the Edvard Munch painting, The Scream? It’s going viral on Twitter at the moment. But sadly, it’s completely fake.
The photo actually dates back to September 2016 and shows British Prime Minister Theresa May with 27 cabinet members. The photo took some heat when it was first released for showing a “genuinely impressive lack of diversity” in the British government. But, more recently, some unknown Photoshop artist turned it into a dig at the state of British politics here in 2017.
The real photo is below, and as you can see, the famous 1893 painting is nowhere to be seen.
It isn’t actually the most recent photo of May and her cabinet, which you can see below. This latest photo was released by Downing Street on 17 July 2017 and shows everyone in front of that same painting.
But do you want to see a photo that’s not only completely real, but also a bit strange? This one of Boris Johnson hasn’t been altered in any way.
(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)
And, um, neither has this one.
(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)
Or this one.
Or, um, this one.
(Photo by Jack Hill – WPA Pool /Getty Images)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the British government has a weird relationship to robots. And you don’t need to go around Photoshopping anything to find embarrassing pictures of the Tories.
10) Is this Bill Nye talking about gender?
Have you seen this screenshot from an old episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy? It shows Nye with the caption, “Gender is determined by your chromosomes.” Alt-right social media users have been posting it because Nye recently said that gender is on a spectrum.
The screenshot has become quite a popular meme on alt-right social media, posted by people like Andrew Klavan, Ian Miles Cheong and a host of anonymous trolls. Milo Yiannopoulos also appears to have posted it to Facebook, but has since deleted it. And, of course, Reddit’s hub for pro-Trump propaganda r/The_Donald has given the fake image over 8,000 upvotes.
Right wing sites like the ironically named Truth Revolt have also perpetuated the lie, with headlines like “Images Prove Bill Nye Flipflopped on Gender Fluidity.” As though the image itself was proof of something that Bill Nye said, rather than a photoshop-job.
I know it’s shocking to hear, but there are a lot of things on the internet that are totally fake. Anyone can take a screenshot of a famous person and put a quote or caption next to them, even if they never said that particular thing. We see this a lot with quotes from famous people.
How do we know Bill Nye never said this thing about gender being determined by your chromosomes? Because we can watch the entire episode for ourselves.
So what did Nye actually say?
Our genes are stored in parts of our cells called chromosomes. They look like this. Chromosomes contain all of the genetic information, all of the instructions you need to make a person. Now humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46. It’s like the instruction are stored in 46 books.
You can watch the entire episode on YouTube, if you’re so inclined, or I’ve trimmed it down to just the part in question and uploaded it here. But just remember that people can make up fake screenshots pretty easily.
If you have to share a very real screenshot of Bill Nye laying down some amazing science facts, share the image below. I assure you it’s one hundred per cent real.
11) Is this a photo of US police burning down tipis in North Dakota?
There’s no disputing that police have brutalised protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota over the past year. But this photo of burning tipis, which went viral, isn’t from the protests.
Twitter user Lina Lightbringer tweeted out the photo with the caption, “America, 2017. Police, burning down the NoDAPL home base, tipis and all. Utterly, thoroughly, grotesque & monstrous.” As bad as it looks, however, it’s totally fake. A version of the photo was actually used as a publicity shot for the 2007 HBO TV movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. You can see the original at HBO’s website.
Not only has the altered photo been cropped to take out the man on the horse, whoever made it also added snow and hay bales.
So, what have the campsites of the protests really looked like over the past year? Militarised police shooting protesters with water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures and spraying protesters with pepper spray.
Protesters confront police in riot gear as a haze of pepper spray wafts over the river on 2 November 2016 (AP Photo/John L. Mone)
Make no mistake that protesters and the journalists covering the protest have been brutalised by police. The response has been horrifying for people who believe that Native Americans should have a say in the way that their land and resources are being used. But that photo is totally fake, and it does a disservice to the cause of the water protectors when people spread fake information, knowingly or not.
12) Is this photo of a shark from Hurricane Harvey?
— Jason Michael (@Jeggit) August 28, 2017
This year, Houston experienced catastrophic flooding as the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey relentlessly dumped rain on the region. Images of heroism and destruction made the rounds on Twitter. And so did the above shark photo. Again.
For the uninitiated, there is a photo of a giant shark swimming through inundated streets that pops up like clockwork any time major flooding enters the news cycle. It’s totally fake.
As Snopes pointed out years ago, the great white shark, which appears to be casually swimming down a flooded city street, originates from a 2005 magazine spread in Africa Geographic. It was later photoshopped by hoaxers to make it look like the shark has found its way to an urban setting. Despite being fake, the shark previously went viral during Hurricane Irene in 2011, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and during flash floods in Texas in 2015.
It’s really remarkable that after years of being debunked, the hoaxers still manage to get the image to go viral. The tweet above claiming the shark is swimming down the Houston highway during Hurricane Harvey received thousands of retweets.