deborah media

Unraveling Social Media One Tool at a Time

Don’t fall for the Humpback Hoax

Image Yesterday, I saw that a Facebook friend had liked a photo of a diver floating beside a humpback whale. Accompanying the photo, was a touching post, describing the rescue of the whale in the Farallone Islands near San Francisco. It reminded me of how long urban legends can remain on social media. I was careful not to share this awesome photo, which went viral long ago, and has somehow managed to survive out there. The Barcroft Media photo is a stunner.  But it is not a photo of the humpback whale which was rescued. That rescue was originally reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005.

The photo of Marco Queral was shot four years after the whale rescue, and it was taken in the South Pacific.

Here are some tips for catching such frauds:

1. Trust your instincts. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I knew that the water depicted was too clear to be here, and probably too calm, for that matter.  Use your own knowledge of an area and instincts to double check that what you are seeing is true.

2. Compare other photographs. View similar photographs of the region which you know to be accurate, and compare them to the photograph before you. Is the water color and clarity similar. Are there landmarks in the photograph to show you where it was shot?

3. Where’s the link? In this case, the Facebook posting and YouTube video about the rescue mentions  a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the rescue, but never provides a link, which is readily available online.  The story includes the real photo:


4. Beware of clean, perfectly lit & framed shots from on-the-scene news events: As you can see, the real photo, while dramatic, is not nearly as neat and tidy as the one purported to be the real thing. Skilled photographers do get lucky in taking the perfect shot, but this is rarer in the chaos of breaking news.

5. Check it out with and other myth busters. The whale photo was vetted by which explains that the description accompanying the photo included some exaggerations, the biggest ones being the photograph itself.


There are many more ways to detect BS online. Please share your favorites.

The rescue of the humpback whale which was entangled in fishing line was a dramatic story, which needed no embellishments, and it is a shame that it has been tainted because of them.

Later this month, I will conduct a training: Separating Fact from Fiction Online which includes other examples besides this one, which I just added.  Many thanks to @mandyjenkins and @craigsilverman, who helped immensely in providing advice for the training.


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This entry was posted on January 2, 2013 by in Training, Uncategorized and tagged , , .
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