Shark photographs also follow rule #4 – many of them emerge over and over again. The image of a shark on a highway in New Jersey also showed up during Hurricane Irene. And if you haven’t seen the whole image before, you might have seen the shark before. There are a few shark silhouettes that get Photoshopped into pictures over and over again.
Of course, it’s possible for sharks to make their way into flooded areas – just highly unlikely. And even more unlikely that anyone would be able to photograph them. So if you’re about to share a “shark in the flood waters” image, check it out first. The same applies to cats.
Why we get fooled
Weather images are easy to fake, Collington says, for a couple of reasons. First, we want to believe them. In the midst of a huge storm, when tension and fear is high, everyone is at the mercy of truly powerful elements. “Weather is really easy to fake, because this sort of response, when you see a lightning bolt or a big storm, you want to believe it.”
And, unlike other faked photographs that are Photoshopped, many of the Hurricane Sandy photos that have been circulating aren’t technically fake. They’re real photographs or real storms – they just don’t happen to be of this particular hurricane. For most people, that’s hard to know. And, Collington says, as a huge, deadly storm rolls in our fear can compromise our gut feelings. Things we would normally have been suspicious of suddenly seem plausible.
But if an image doesn’t pass these five checks, it’s worth investigating – which is easy to do. Several reverse-image search sites are available online where you can find either the originals or commentary on photographs. Since hurricane photos tend to pop up again and again, many of them appear on the myth-busting site Snopes. And if you get fooled, don’t feel bad, Farid says. Even huge news outlets like the AP and Reuters have been duped by fake photos. “We have a remarkable familiarity with photographs. I think there is a sense that our gut is good at this,” he says, but in reality we’re quite easily fooled.
So before you share a photo with everyone you know and scare the living daylights out of friends and relatives, do this. Stop. Think for a second. And then check it out.