Some stories are too good to be true. But that doesn’t stop them from spreading on social media – on the contrary.

In this case, it’s a powerful image: A determined-looking woman holds a machete to the throat of a police officer, who in turn has his gun pointed at a young man lying on the ground. The caption, whether it’s in English, French, Spanish or Italian, generally reads along the lines of: “A lioness protecting her puppy: Haitian mother protects her son from a Dominican cop."

Why a puppy and not a lion cub? We have no idea, but that’s the least of our concerns with this story.

For several years now, this image has regularly spread throughout the world via Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and even Pinterest. On Facebook alone, it’s been shared several tens of thousands of times via several pages that specialise in posting viral content.

Frequently, an awestruck commenter will note that the image is so incredible that it looks like a scene from a movie. And they’re right – it is. If you do a reverse image search on this image, you’ll see that these are actors from the 2013 film Cristo Rey, a purely fictional account of gang warfare in a shantytown of Santo Domingo.

Trailer for the film "Cristo Rey". Watch from 0'27"...

The fake story about this image has been debunked several times in the past three years – for example by this article in Italian or in this Reddit thread in English. Yet it continues to spread relentlessly, most recently on Facebook in French.

Tip: if an image you see on social media seems almost too incredible to be true, think twice before sharing it – it often is. It takes just a few seconds to use Google Images’ reverse image search to check where the image has been published previously online.

There are many other instances where still images from movies were used to fool viewers. Check out this article we wrote in January, with an example from Iran: “Iran’s karate woman and the boy who’s still alive: Fake images in Iran’s protests”.

Article by Gaelle Faure.