As Hurricane Florence barrels towards the east coast Thursday, it’s important to remind social media users of a good rule of thumb: If you see a photo that defies common sense, take a minute to investigate before sharing.
Natural disasters bring all sorts of shenanigans to the interwebs: Sharks swimming next to cars. A full fleet of airplanes underwater. Crocodiles knocking on front doors. None of these are real.
Weather events in particular seem to attract more altered or fake images than other kinds of stories, according to Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the Poynter Institue for Media Studies.
“People are really anxious to see damage,” Tompkins said. “There’s a hunger, there’s an appetite for it. People really want this information. It’s sort of opportunity meets demand.”
Plus, it’s super easy to do.
So what can you do to avoid looking foolish or spreading harmful misinformation?
Tompkins suggests three tools that can you help determine reality from the imaginary:
- Google image search: You can copy and paste a picture from twitter or facebook and search for it on Google images. See if the photo has been shared elsewhere or been identified.
- Tineye: Another easy and simple tool. Upload an image or copy an image URL and pop it in to see where else this image has appeared.
- Reveye: A Google chrome extension, this is especially useful for international images. Reveye searches five image search engines, including Google, Bing, Yandex, TinEye and Baidu.
Here are some of the photos you might see getting shared around as Florence makes landfall. Don’t be fooled.
— Jason Michael (@Jeggit) August 28, 2017
This one tops the charts. A shark purportedly swimming on a freeway made the rounds during Hurricane Harvey… and Hurricane Matthew… and Hurricane Sandy. And people fell for it — every time. This tweet got 84,000 retweets and nearly 143,000 likes. It may seem obvious, but here’s yet another reminder that sharks don’t take the highway.
Are you following our Facebook page? Tomorrow is the perfect time to check us out! We will be live at 9:10 AM at @WonderWorksMB to see their brand-new exhibits! Tune in tomorrow at https://t.co/hs6AdSYgsv or follow now and opt in for video alerts! pic.twitter.com/oNaUyaxEnr
— VacationMyrtleBeach (@VacationMB) April 1, 2018
This is the WonderWorks Eatery in Myrtle Beach. Yes, it’s upside down. But that’s how it always is. Hurricane Florence did not put this restaurant on it’s head.
— Ioan T. Morar (@itmorar) September 2, 2017
This fake photo got a lot of play during Hurricane Harvey. A fleet of planes nearly underwater at Houston’s airport – how dramatic! Only it’s actually from LaGuarida Airport in New York — and it’s a mock-up, meant to show the potential effects of climate change.
COME RAIN OR COME SHINE | The honor guard detail at “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” during Hurricane Sandy pic.twitter.com/fgORQfss8w
— ❌ROBERTS|JUSTICE❌ (@robertsjustice) May 26, 2014
This photo of soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia actually IS real. Only it’s not from a hurricane. The photo spread wildly during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — but the photo was actually taken earlier that year.
Hurricane Sandy moves across the Statue of Liberty. pic.twitter.com/QApIAEEI
— Gautam Trivedi (@KaptanHindustan) October 30, 2012
Another real photo that has been used for all sorts of trouble over the years. The picture, taken in 2004, depicts a supercell in Nebraska. But it’s a favorite for online instigators because it can be superimposed over landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty. Don’t be surprised if this background is used again during Hurricane Florence.
— danny (@Dannthedrummer) October 29, 2012
An all time classic. Flood water eviscerating a McDonald’s — Ronald McDonald floating helplessly by the counter. It’s not real. This one fooled a lot of folks back in 2012, but it’s actually a 2009 art installation put on by a Danish artists’ group.