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Fake photos circulated to news outlets during Midwest tornadoes coverage

Fake photos circulated to news outlets during Midwest tornadoes coverage

(Featured photo: Tweet)

Cutting through the clutter on Twitter during severe weather and other disasters in the midst of breaking news seems to be getting more and more difficult these days.

As tornadoes struck the Midwest over the weekend, devastating towns and killing several people, there were unfortunately also the usual instances of trolling with fake photos that ultimately tricked many on social media, some even making their way to media outlets.

Mediabistro’s TVSpy blog reported that an “iwitness” submission of a doctored photo that included a fake tornado, a UFO and Bigfoot made its way onto a local Indiana TV station website.  (Spotted by Indianapolis Star reporter Eric Weddle and reported by Jim Romenesko).

A news director for the station told TVSpy, “The photo was published to the photo gallery by someone outside our building.  At the height of the storm and in the aftermath of it, we received a lot of viewer photographs & video, and this one slipped through our verification protocols.”  It has since been removed.

One viewer noticed something terribly off about one particular photo featured in the storm coverage from a local Chicago CBS affiliate report after observing a…shall we say, off-color and clearly fake…road sign in it (hence, a video warning for you).

(Video credit YouTube user inyourfaces2011)

It turns out the photo itself (minus the sign) was a Reuters photo from late May’s tornadoes in Oklahoma, as Daily Dot and Deadspin noted.

And sometimes users themselves are the ones duped.  The Epoch Times reported that a Twitter user who alerted at least one media outlet of tornado wreckage in an Illinois town later apologized when he realized it was a fake photo his cousin apparently passed off to him as a “prank.”


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How ever do these hoaxes keep getting through all the “layers of fact-checkers and editors” that are supposed to distinguish “serious news outlets” from mere bloggers and tweeters?

Just a week or two ago I saw an article on that guy from New York who manages to get himself quoted as a “man on the street” or interested party in all sorts of breaking news stories in newspapers or television by simply going to the scenes and making himself available to the media. He’s been doing it for about 20 years and has been quoted in dozens of unrelated stories – sometimes as a bystander, sometimes as an eyewitness, sometimes as a guy from the neighborhood when he isn’t, sometimes as an activist or supporter of some cause.

He always uses his real name, too. By now you might think journalists would know him on sight and have studied him in J-school as a case study, but you would be wrong.

Yeah, ratings are more important than professional integrity.