In China, counterfeits are everywhere – even in citizen journalism.
, a Weibo user (the local equivalent of Twitter, which is banned in China), became famous nine months ago after posting photos he appeared to have snapped in the heart of battle in Libya. Today, his Weibo account has more than 274,000 followers. This “citizen journalist” also describes himself as the founder of a website specialising in the sale of jade.
On the left, the photo posted on Lao Rong's account. On the right, the same photo taken by a Reuters photographer on Al Jazeera's website on March 30.
All of the photos he posted after “arriving” in Libya in mid-May 2011 were accompanied by detailed captions. On September 22, for example, he posted a photograph of a rebel standing by a truck carrying a machine gun. In the caption he wrote that this rebel was a fisherman who had invited him to eat some fish before leaving for battle.
However, these photos appeared suspicious to another Weibo user, AC Thin Air
, who decided to investigate. According to AC Thin Air, co-founder of the self-proclaimed independent website “4th media”
, which aims to “expose the truth about the lies spread by Western media”, Lao Rong is an impostor. He alleges that several photos posted by Lao Rong were in fact taken by professional journalists. Some of these images were even posted online long before the date Lao Rong claims he arrived in Libya. The photograph of the “fisherman” standing by the truck, for example, was actually taken by a Reuters photographer on March 30 of last year – two months before Lao Rong's alleged arrival.
There are other examples, too. On May 22, Lao Rong posted a photograph of an AK-47 that he claimed to have bought right after he arrived in Libya. However, the exact same photo was posted on another web user’s Flickr album… on April 23. And then there’s the photo Lao Rong posted of a child, with the caption: “Dear children, the world is yours! Spread the word! We will see each other again!” This photo had already been posted on Flickr on March 30.
Some Chinese web users suspect Lao Rong tried to garner attention in order to promote his jade-selling business. Despite the controversy surrounding his photos, he continues to stick to his story. Lao Rong has accused his critics of being members of the “50-cent gang who hate freedom and democracy.” “50 cents” is the name given to those who are paid a small sum by the Chinese government to flood social media networks with propaganda.