Archive photo + new, false caption = successful hoax

These three old photos were recently shared on social media with misleading captions. Unfortunately, few people bothered to find out the real story behind these photos.
These three old photos were recently shared on social media with misleading captions. Unfortunately, few people bothered to find out the real story behind these photos.

It’s pretty common for people to spread false information online by sharing historical photos out of context or with a caption that is misleading or, sometimes, downright false. The FRANCE 24 Observers team has assembled a few examples when people dug up old black and white photos from the archives and deliberately misled others about what they represent.

Example 1: The photo of the boat of “Italians arriving in New York”

On August 23, a black and white photo showing a boat overflowing with people started circulating on Facebook. The caption, which was written in French, read: “Boat of Italian migrants arriving in New York at the beginning of the 20th century.”

The France 24 Observers team saved a copy of this post, which you can check out by clicking this link.

This post was published during a very particular political moment. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini had been refusing to let humanitarian ships that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean dock in Italy.

The people who shared this post wanted to remind him that, throughout the 19th and 20th century, large numbers of Italian migrants came to the United States. It’s true that, over the years, many Italians have settled in the United States. However, this photo has nothing to do with that migration trend.

When you see an image like this, that is being shared widely on social media, you should always start with a reverse image search (click here to find out how). You can use Google Images or another search engine like the Russian search engine Yandex, which also allows you to run a reverse image search. (If one of them doesn’t come up with results, another might).

Try running a search with the Russian search engine Yandex by clicking here.

A reverse image search immediately pulls up results. The photo actually shows the well-known British Ocean liner, the Queen Elizabeth, bringing victorious American troops back to New York in 1945, after the end of the war.

Example 2: Che Guevara “killing women”

In the past decade, a photo has been appearing and reappearing on social media that people claim shows the iconic communist revolutionary Che Guevara on the brink of killing two women. The last time it was shared widely was in February 2018.

Those who shared this brutal photo claim that it showed Guevara’s true nature and that it should replace the iconic portrait of the communist leader that appears on posters and t-shirts the world over.

However, if you run a simple reverse image search, then it is pretty easy to discover that this photo actually comes from the archives of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front or the FMLN, a revolutionary movement in El Salvador, which was founded in 1980, long after Guevara’s death in 1967.

Example 3: Child victims in Soviet camps

The practice of pairing old photos with false or misleading captions isn’t new. The Museum of Communication in Bern, Switzerland has a brochure telling the story of a famous example from decades ago. Back in 1978, “The voice of martyrs”, a magazine that tells the stories of Christians facing persecution around the world, published a photo of children wearing outfits of the kind that prisoners wear (see below.)  The photo was used to illustrate an article that claims that these children were mistreated in a labour camp in the Soviet Union.

Back then, there was no reverse image search technology. However, today, we can run a reverse image search, which pulls up this photo in its original context. In fact, this photo doesn’t show children in a labour camp. It was taken in the German city of Torgau, Germany in 1976 and shows a group of kids on a class visit to a swimming pool.

Have you seen other old photos with false or misleading captions? Send examples our way!