Hurricane Sandy Viral Photos – For Better or For Worse, What You Share Affects Your Cred

October 30th, 2012 by Search Influence University

Just like all of you, I spend a sizeable portion of my day with Facebook open in one of the many tabs of my Google Chrome browser. I do it for work; other typical explanations include social media addiction, boredom, or a bad case of the Mondays. Either way, I’m confident that a great majority of people that spent any time on social media on Monday caught a great deal of images, comments, posts, updates, and tweets related to Hurricane Sandy.

Among all the hullabaloo there were several images that began to circulate rather quickly, including an inundated Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and various New York City skylines cowering under ominous-looking masses of cloud. As it turns out, most of these images are fake. Not fake as in they never happened fake — fake as in, those photos had nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy fake.

Amazing, inspiring, fake photos.

This image was actually a normal picture of the Statue of Liberty, Photoshopped against the background of a 2004 Nebraska storm.

People share viral pieces for different reasons. We’ve all had the “Oh, you haven’t seen _______ yet? You have to check it out!” conversation. The very point of social media is to share compelling content with our friends (both literal and metaphorical), and that won’t change. But with the sensationalistic and incorrect information that gains legs during this kind of huge story, how do users start shaking out the details? More importantly, does a willingness to instantly share a doctored photo reflect poorly on your own (or, Heaven forbid, your business’s) credibility?

It wasn’t long after the first round of photos circulated through the interwebs that articles began to identify these photos as the phonies that they were. I’ll be honest — I saw some of the photos on my own feed and thought they were fantastic. It didn’t even cross my mind that they were fake.

This image was taken from the poster for the 2004 environmental disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.

Here’s where the social Internet’s famed capacity for instantaneous reaction kicks in and things get interesting. Those who resisted the allure of the initial photo insta-share were all too happy to spread the damning info, and those who initially shared the photos suffered the e-stigma of falling for a hoax — followers of the accounts who spread the tainted photos are surely feeling exasperated at their friends’ willingness to hop on the bandwagon. As in the Kony 2012 debacle, sensationalistic content is tempting to share, but if it turns out to be false your followers may have a real problem with your willingness to mislead them. Love it or hate it, the Internet is a breeding ground for high-speed rumor-mongering, but we’re now also allowed high-speed debunking — which can lead to a crucial loss of credibility in your networks.

Does the question of journalistic responsibility come into play with regard to such a disconnected network as the social media sphere? Can we just assume that eventually the truth will prevail? The actual source often becomes so removed from the images that go viral that it’s hard to tell what’s what. Some will always be quick to share, and others quick to skepticism. While news stories of this magnitude offer an unparalleled opportunity for organic, viral sharing, it’s important to remember that the Internet’s capacity for tweaking or losing the truth entirely is mighty — if you try to harness the power of a breaking news story, pay attention to your sources or you may find yourself losing social (media) capital.

What fake viral media has affected you recently? Have you found yourself unwittingly sharing a less-than-veritable tidbit, and what were your followers’ reactions?