No, Joe Biden doesn't live in a White House 'set'
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Since Joe Biden's inauguration, conspiracy theories have emerged online claiming that the new president is not really in office. According to Donald Trump supporters and the global QAnon movement, visual evidence in the form of photo comparisons "reveal" Joe Biden's White House to be a set. However, upon examining the photos, we can confirm that they are indeed real photos of the White House.
The post has been widely circulating in Japanese in conspiracy groups on Twitter (with more than 1,700 likes) and Telegram (42,000 views) since March 13, 2021. In this tweet, the caption asks: "How many White Houses are there in the United States?". The photo montage highlights alleged differences between the two images, particularly in the ornamentation and windows on the first floor of the building.
In the bottom photo, former President Donald Trump is seen behind the podium in the Rose Garden, adjacent to the West Wing of the White House, next to the Oval Office. Press events are regularly held in this space.
This photo was taken on October 1, 2018, during a press conference hosted by the former president about the new trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. In this photo taken for AFP, the people and their outfits (the colour of the ties and the red dress) are all positioned in the same way.
The top photo is empty, and therefore more difficult to date. The flags, which seem to have been installed after Joe Biden arrived at the White House, provide the only clue. They do not appear in any photo prior to January 20, 2021.
So, how can we explain the differences between the two photos?
In terms of the ornaments, they are more or less visible depending on the time of day: as the sun goes down, it casts the ornaments in shadow, making their outline more stark by contrast. On the contrary, if the sun is shining directly overhead, the ornaments won't be cast in shadow and will therefore be less visible, since they are the same colour as the rest of the building.
In fact, by changing the contrast of the photo, you can see these ornaments appear.
Lastly, regarding the windows in the background, which are visible on the first floor of the White House in the photo with Donald Trump but don't appear in the other image, it's a matter of perspective.
A photographer standing closer to the podium will not be able to show the windows fully from this angle. However, if the photographer is standing further away, the windows will be in frame. This can be seen by the chandelier under the columns in the centre of the top picture, which is almost invisible in the bottom photo.
The photo below, taken by Brendan Smialowski for AFP on May 11, 2020, shows that the ornaments are visible in certain lighting and that the windows were already there, even during Trump's term.