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[PHOTO] “How Photos Fuel the Spread of Fake News”

Wired‘s Laura Mallonee explains how the emotive power of the photograph helps the spread of fake news.

During a campaign stop in South Carolina last winter, Hillary Clinton stumbled as she climbed the steps of an antebellum mansion in Charleston. Aides helped her regain her balance in a vulnerable but nondescript moment captured by Getty photographer Mark Makela. He didn’t think much of it until August, when the alt-right news site Breitbart touted it as evidence of Clinton’s failing health.

“It was really bizarre and dispiriting to see,” he says. “We’re always attuned to photographic manipulation, but what was more sinister in this situation was the misappropriation of a photo.”

Misappropriation and misrepresentation of images helped drive the growth of fake news. A photograph of tour buses lined up in Austin became proof that Democrats were bringing protestors to Trump rallies. Conspiracy theorists say a screenshot from a video of President Obama playing ping pong reveal his participation in a pedophilia ring operating in a Washington DC pizza parlor. (Never mind that the ring does not exist and nothing untoward has happened at the pizza place.) Some argued that an image of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hands revealed his involvement in satanic rituals.

Such stories rely on images to sell bogus narratives. The people publishing and promoting fake news routinely take photos out of context, digitally alter them, or combine them with text to manipulate readers, knowing that people tend to accept photographs as truthful representations. “The images need to look legitimate enough to support the ‘realistic’ nature of the article,” says David Berkowitz of the social media company Sysomos. “If it’s too far-fetched, it won’t spread beyond the fringe, and the goal when someone is pushing fake news is to make it go mainstream.”


Written by Randy McDonald

December 24, 2016 at 5:15 pm

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