If you’ve clicked on any articles about the victims of recent terror attacks, you might have seen this man’s photo. Following the deadly terrorist attack at Atatürk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, social media users shared his photo, claiming this man was among the 42 people killed. His photo was also shared online after the EgyptAir crash last month and, once again, he was believed to be a victim.
This same mysterious man made it onto the lists of victims of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12. His photo was even included in a New York Times video showing images of the victims.
And that’s not all. This man’s photo pops up in connection with all sorts of different tragedies. On June 19, for example, Mexican police shot at a crowd of people protesting against education reform, killing at least eight people. Social media users shared his photo again, only this time they claimed that he was the official who ordered the police to shoot.
Who is this man? France 24 investigates
After the EgyptAir crash, several media outlets, including the BBC, saw through this scam and reported that Internet trolls had been putting up fake posts about crash victims, apparently to trick the media. Though BBC journalists said that this man did not really die in the EgyptAir crash, they weren’t able to identify who he was or establish how his photo ended up online. They did, however, note that the social media accounts that first shared posts about this man being a victim in the crash were all based in Mexico.
Intrigued, FRANCE 24's Observers set out to find out more.
The perpetrators of this hoax were out for revenge
Our team contacted these social media users and they all told the same story. They said they knew the man in the photo personally and that he had cheated them out of money, ranging from fairly small sums up to about $1,000.
One of them said:
This man used to be my friend but he’s cheated money out of me and at least four people who I know. I lodged both civil and criminal complaints against him, but because the legal proceedings are dragging on and he still hasn’t given us back our money, we decided to punish him by posting his photo online. Our goal is to ruin his reputation. We want the whole world to recognise his face.
To verify this story, FRANCE 24 managed to contact the man pictured in all these photos. We decided not to publish his real name.
When speaking to our team, he didn’t deny being caught up in legal proceedings. He said:
My photo is everywhere because of someone who started it as a prank after a legal dispute. I never reported the people who did this to me because, in Mexico, nothing ever happens in these kinds of cases.
Now, my photo has appeared in several stories that were widely shared on Twitter. I contacted several media outlets like the BBC and the New York Times and asked them to delete my photo but they never responded.
Are there any legal consequences for someone who posts someone else’s photo online in an act of revenge?
The answer to this question depends on the country that the person lives in. Mexican law says that a person can receive a prison sentence from six to 24 months in case of "slander, calumny and defamation to the prestige of an organisation or the honour or dignity of an individual".
Fabrice Lorvo is a lawyer who is specialises in media law. He works for the FTPA cabinet and is a regular commentator on French radio France Info:
These days, people can take to social media instantly if they want to get revenge on someone. It’s a new situation because, before the Internet, only traditional media outlets had such wide reach. These media organisations have a moral code as well as legal restrictions they have to comply with.
If this situation had taken place in France, however, the person who first tweeted this man’s photo could face serious legal consequences and even jail time. He could be tried in a civil court for infringing image distribution rights.
He could also face criminal charges if the photo was taken in a private place without the subject’s consent or if the comments published with the photos are considered defamatory or injurious.
One interesting thing about this case is that it shows that traditional media outlets are more and more influenced by social media. Numerous websites shared this man’s photo without verifying its origins!
To find out more about verifying images that circulate on social media, check out our guide :
>> How to verify photos and videos on social media networks
Article written by FRANCE 24 journalists Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier) and Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).