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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Don’t believe everything you see

March for Our Lives gun control gathering, Washington, D.C., March 24, 2018. —
March for Our Lives gun control gathering, Washington, D.C., March 24, 2018. — Screenshot

Think of this as a truth tutorial. Or maybe as the cost of doing business in a world where people aren’t above lying to advance their own agendas.

Even on social media, to their friends.

In fact, especially on social media.

Now, I don’t know exactly where it started, so I’m not going to point fingers at any one particular person. But this week, I saw a post that had a photograph of thousands of people marching on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

The photo on social media had the headline, “650,000 March for Life 2019.” Underneath, it said, “Just in case you missed the media coverage. Oh, wait...”

The suggestion, clearly, is that the media was ignoring or downplaying a massive protest.

Now, it’s hard to get a fix on the accurate number of participants in the March for Life. Organizers have been quoted as saying there were as many as 300,000 people, while other observers have cited 100,000 — and some even fewer.

But the photograph certainly showed scores and scores of people, with the street overflowing into parks on either side of the road.

The problem is, though, that the photo doesn’t seem to be from this year’s March for Life.

It’s pretty clear that the photo was widely used by the news media almost a year earlier — and was actually from the March for Our Lives gun control gathering on March 24, 2018, which was held after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

The problem is, though, that the photo doesn’t seem to be from this year’s March for Life.

You can see the photo of the gun control march here — and the purported 2019 March for Life one (if it doesn’t get taken down) here.

The photos, while not exactly the same because one is framed more tightly, have shadows in the same places, and match up right down to the two vehicles parked nose to nose near the top right corner. In some places, you can see individuals in the same spots.

Oh, and in other photos of the March for Life this year, there’s snow on the ground.

Now, all of this may not amount to more than a small hill of beans in the great scheme of things.

And leave aside the irony of what might be called a photograph of a left-wing event being used to falsely represent what might be considered a right-wing cause.

The fact is that it’s not enough to simply take someone’s word online that a thing is what they say it is.

Someone makes an inaccurate post, either deliberately or accidentally, sends it out to the like-minded amongst their social media friends, and pretty soon, it’s big enough to have its own gravitational pull.

If you just want your beliefs reinforced, you can stop right there. But if you want to dig a little deeper, you can.

Luckily, the internet never forgets.

There are some simple tools — simple but unbelievably powerful tools — to check the accuracy of what’s being spoon-fed to you.

In the case of photographs, you can open another window on your browser, go to Google Images and drag and drop any photograph into the search window.

It will helpfully pull up any similar photograph it can find in Google’s massive online archive. (It is, by the way, useful for something as simple as identifying a wildflower you don’t recognize — take a photo of the strange flower, drop it in Google Images, and find a match.)

You can also use websites like Snopes to check and see if a story someone’s pitching to you on social media is actually a hoax.

The problem is, seeing can’t necessarily mean believing anymore. It also means you need to do a lot more due diligence.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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