The advent of the Internet has changed the world in many different ways. It has become a source of immense information as well as misinformation, especially because of social networks. Most users do not necessarily feel obliged to check the veracity of what they are sharing usually believing the source to be authentic or because they are too anxious to share immediately. On the other hand, some users are simply gullible or lack the awareness that would let them doubt the authenticity of what they share. Over the past few years, there were many widely circulated photos that are actually fake but continued to make rounds on the internet, and here are some of them.
1. Claim: Rehana, dubbed the “Angel of Kobane,” was said to have single-handedly killed 100 IS fighters.
The photograph was first published in August 2014 on the blog “Bijikurdistan,” a supporter of Kurdish efforts in Kobane, Aleppo, northern Syria. Initially, it went unnoticed, but a month later it was posted on Twitter by the Slemani Times, a news outlet in the Kurdish region. The image quickly went viral on Twitter amid rumors of her being beheaded or killed by the IS fighters. She came to be known as “Rehana,” and another tweet that claimed she killed 100 terrorists urged others to re-tweet to “maker her famous for her bravery.” An Indian blogger and activist Pawan Durani re-tweeted it along with pictures of several other female Kurdish fighters. Soon, the news media picked up the story dubbing her the “Angel of Kobane.”
Truth: Her real name is unknown. She was a law student in Aleppo at the time and volunteered for an auxiliary home guard unit. She did not kill 100 IS fighters.
The photograph was taken on August 22, 2014, during a ceremony for those volunteering with the home guard or the Kobane police force. Carl Drott, a Swedish journalist, was the only international journalist in the city at that time. Drott stated that “She came up to me and said she used to study law in Aleppo, but that Islamic State had killed her father so she had decided to join these forces herself. I tried to speak to her afterward but never managed to find her or get her name.” The woman was not a front line fighter and was just wearing a military-style uniform in the ceremony.(source)
2. Claim: Egypt’s Sphinx was covered in snow, and that was reported to be the first snowfall for 112 years in North Africa.
Originally posted on Reddit, the image of Egypt’s Sphinx and a pyramid covered in snow went viral on Twitter and Facebook in 2013. However, some did notice that the area around the Sphinx seemed different, and also the top of Eiffel tower visible behind the pyramid.
Truth: It is a miniature replica of the Sphinx at the Tobu World Square theme park in Japan.
The Sphinx and the pyramid are actually 1/25th scale models of the actual ones in Africa located in Tobu World Square theme park in Japan. The park also features miniature versions of several buildings and World Heritage sites including the Statue of Liberty, the White House, the Parthenon, Versailles Palace, Notre-Dame, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and St. Vasilie Church.(source)
3. Claim: MGM strapped the lion to film their iconic logo video.
The logo for Goldwyn Pictures was originally designed by Howard Dietz who is also credited with creating the mascot Leo the Lion. Since 1916, until the merger with Marcus Leow’s Metro Pictures and Louis B. Mayer’s company forming MGM, seven different lions had been used to play Leo. None of these lions were strapped behind the logo frame as suggested in the image above that began circulating online since January 2015.
Dietz wanted to use a lion as the mascot as a tribute to The Lions, his alma mater Columbia University’s mascot for their athletic teams. The inspiration for having the lion roar came from Columbia’s fight song, “Roar, Lion, Roar.” The first lion they used, Slats, however, did nothing but look around. The second lion, Jackie, was the first MGM lion to roar.
Truth: The lion was ill and just getting a CAT scan at an Israeli zoo.
The actual photograph taken in 2005 shows a two-year-old Barbary lion named Samson. After he was found staggering and unable to walk properly in his pen in Hai-Kef zoo in Rishon Lezion, Israel, Samson was treated by Merav Shamir, a veterinary neurological specialist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A part of Samson’s skull was malformed probably due to undernourishment, and a CAT scan confirmed the diagnosis. Shamir made urgent consultations with veterinary experts to see if anyone had done a corrective surgery before for such cases. Finding that no one did, she performed a pioneering, nine-hour-long brain surgery that saved the lion’s life.(source)
4. Claim: Camel spiders of Iraq said to be the size of dinner plates, can run 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour), jump six feet (two meters) in the air, and lay eggs inside a camel’s stomach.
Several rumors about the abilities of camel spiders have emerged during the Gulf War in 1990-91 which became more widespread as the US troops returned to Iraq. The above photograph in which the spiders appear to be the size of the soldier’s calf was accompanied by tales that the creatures could inject a sleeping soldier with anesthetic and then chew his flesh. Other stories suggest that they could run 25 miles per hour and lay eggs in a camel’s belly. There are also stories about them in Mexico where they are known as “matevenados” or “deer killers.” None of these claims are actually true. The large size of the spiders in the picture is only due to the closeness of the camera.
Truth: Camel spiders can only grow a maximum of 4.7 inches (12 centimeters), including legs, and their top speed is 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour), only half as fast as a human. They only lay eggs in a burrow.
Camel spiders, also known as “wind scorpions” or “solifuges,” are generally found in warm deserts and scrublands throughout the world, except in Australia and Antarctica. Despite their names, they are neither spiders nor scorpions. Though they are fast on land when compared to other invertebrates, they are less than half as fast as the claims. They only feed on insects, invertebrates, and rarely small reptiles, but not humans or camels. They neither have venom glands nor any means to inject it.(1, 2)
5. Claim: A young Syrian boy sleeping between the graves of his parents.
The photograph was published by an American Muslim convert living in Saudi Arabia on his twitter account @americanbadu with a caption claiming that the picture is from Syria and the boy’s parents were killed by the Assad Regime. With over 187 thousand followers, the picture was quickly re-tweeted by hundreds. Some of them were from Islamic NGOs with thousands of more followers. Soon it went viral and was posted on Twitter and Facebook in Western countries.
Truth: The boy is the photographer’s nephew and is not Syrian. The mounds on either side are not graves, but just piles of stones made to look like graves.
The photo was taken by a young photographer named Abdul Aziz Al-Otaibi who is from Saudi as well. Upon finding out about the misinformation accompanying the photo, Al-Otaibi sent a private message to @americanbadu asking him to correct it. The reply he got was, “Why don’t you just let go and claim it is a picture from Syria and gain a reward from God. You are exaggerating.” However, @americanbadu did remove his tweet after that.(source)
6. Claim: The “tourist guy” photograph of a man on the observation deck of the World Trade Center seconds before the plane hit the building on September 11, 2001.
Shortly after 9/11, the above photograph claimed to be from a camera found in the debris surfaced online. However, several inconsistencies, some of them listed on Hoaxapedia, found in the image have confirmed it to be a hoax. The tourist is wearing winter clothing when September 11 was a warm day, and both the planes that actually crashed into the World Trade Center were Boeing 767s, while in the image the plane is Boeing 757. A plane moving at that velocity would have blurred in the photograph. The camera could not have survived the fall without smashing to pieces. It would have been unlikely for the man to pose for the camera on the observation deck which on the south tower because the north tower was hit first. Also, the crash happened at 9.03 AM, but the observation deck opens at 9.30 AM.
Truth: The photograph was taken on November 28, 1997, by Péter Guzli who digitally edited the photo for fun to share with his friends, not realizing how quickly it would spread on the internet.
The picture became an internet meme and people began to include him in the RMS Titanic sinking, the JFK assassination, Air France Flight 4590’s destruction, and even the Hindenburg disaster. At first, a Brazilian businessman claimed to be the tourist in the photograph. When he began getting media attention and even a Volkswagen commercial offer, a Hungarian man named Peter Guzli came forward. He provided the original photograph and several others taken at that time as proof to a Hungarian newspaper, all of which were later examined and confirmed by Wired News.(source)
7. Claim: Moon melon, known for its strange blue color, grows in some parts of Japan and is worth ￥16,000 or about $200.
Since May 2011, the picture of moon melon has gone viral on picture-based websites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. The caption accompanying the picture claimed the fruit’s scientific name to be “asidus.” Further details say that the fruit is capable of “switching flavors after you eat it. Everything sour will taste sweet, and everything salty will taste bitter, and it gives water a strong, orange-like taste. This fruit is very expensive. It costs about 16,000 yen or $200.”
Truth: It’s just a picture of a slice of watermelon with its color digitally altered to blue.
The claims of moon melon inspired subsequent debunking efforts proving that it was just a Photoshopped image of watermelon. There is, however, another fruit found in West Africa called the miracle berry which can make everything sour taste sweet after eating the berry. It contains a molecule called “miraculin” which binds to taste buds and triggers sweet receptors at low pH.(1, 2)
8. Claim: A shark was photographed swimming in the flooded waters on I-75 outside of Naples, Florida, shortly after Hurricane Irma.
As Hurricanes Irma and Harvey wreaked havoc in the US, there were tweets of an image showing a shark swimming on a flooded highway. While one version claimed it to be on the freeway in Houston, Texas, another claimed it to be on I-75 outside Naples, Florida. A Dublin-based journalist, Jason Michael, posted the image on his Twitter account receiving over 88,000 retweets. He later posted that it was a hoax and he was just trolling.
Truth: The shark was actually from a photograph in a 2005 National Geographic article called Shark Detectives in which it was trailing a kayaker.
The original photograph of the shark was taken 10 years ago by National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak off the coast of South Africa. According to Peschak, he tied himself “to the tower of the White Shark Trust research boat” overlooking the waters, waiting patiently until the first shark arrived. When one did, it became curious about the research assistant on the kayak who looked back just when Peschak took the shot.(source)
9. Claim: This is said to be the photograph of the world’s longest traffic jam on the China National Highway 110.
This photo of a supposed traffic jam in China that lasted 11 days was widely circulated on emails and Facebook. There was indeed a massive traffic jam, but not as shown in the photo, mostly on the China National Highway 110 and Beijing-Tibet expressway that started on August 14, 2010. In the past several years, there was an increase in traffic by 40% each year, and when the jam started, the traffic volume was 60% more than the design capacity. The jam started because of heavy trucks overloaded with coal and a lack of proper paperwork to avoid quality inspections. Another contributing factor was the lack of railway capacity that could take on the increased coal production in Inner Mongolia.
Truth: The photograph is actually that of Interstate 405 north of Los Angeles, California.
The source for the Photoshopped image was a photo taken from the Getty Center in Los Angeles and taken by Philip Greenspun. The actual highway is only about half the width of the highway in the fake image. The shed-like building to the left is actually a tram station that takes people to the Getty Center from the parking structure beside the highway.(source)
10. Claim: Photograph taken in 2003 of Iraqi civilians pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein during a spontaneous rally in Firdos Square, marking a symbolic end to the Battle of Baghdad.
The statue in Firdos Square was installed in April 2002 in honor of Saddam Hussein’s 65th birthday. On April 9, 2003, a group of Iraqi civilians began attacking the statue. One of them was weightlifter Kadhem Sharif who used a sledgehammer which attracted media attention. The statue’s destruction was broadcasted live on news networks and made to the front pages of newspapers and magazines throughout the world. The act symbolized the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government and seemed to confirm the reports of the then Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahhaf that Iraq was winning the war.
Truth: The toppling was the decision of an unnamed US Marine colonel and quick-thinking on the part of US Army psychological operations team, who used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians.
Conflicting reports of the incident soon began to surface. The photograph published by the London Evening Standard turned out to have been Photoshopped to suggest a larger crowd than there actually was. According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the event was staged by an unnamed US Marine colonel and psychological operations team. In 2016, Kadhem Sharif stated that he regretted his part in the statue’s destruction because after the invasion “things started to get worse every year. There was infighting, corruption, killing, and looting. Saddam has gone, but now in his place, we have 1,000 Saddams.”
According to Peter Maass, one of the journalist present at Firdos Square during the event, while the toppling was going on, Baghdad was still “violent and chaotic” with continued armed opposition to the American advance. However, “the networks almost never broke away from Firdos Square” as they ignored everything else for a more “upbeat” story.(1,2)