On the night of 6 February 2023, a devastating 7.8 Richter earthquake hit south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Syria. The epicenter was near the Turkish town of Gaziantep, and both countries were severely hit: at the time of writing this, the overall death toll has risen to nearly 10,000 people and counting.
As often happens in times like this, many heartbreaking photos have appeared, and some have become more viral than the news itself. Perhaps you’ve seen a photo of a Labrador dog guarding someone’s hand under ruins? While it’s certainly a gut-wrenching shot, and it will cause your friends’ reactions when you share it – it was taken in 2018 and has nothing to do with the recent catastrophe.
What’s the real story behind the photo?
It’s fairly easy to fact-check news and photos nowadays. A simple reverse image search reveals that it was taken by Czech photographer Jaroslav Noska, who posted it to stock websites Shutterstock, iStock and Alamy. The Alamy caption reads, “Dog looking for injured people in ruins after earthquake,” but it doesn’t reveal the location. But considering that it was uploaded on Alamy in October 2018, it certainly has nothing to do with the current events in Turkey and Syria. Jaroslav uploaded the same image to iStock in January 2019. It was even downloaded and used in a few blogs Google offered when I performed the reverse image search.
Why is it important to fact-check news and photos?
As I mentioned, fact-checking is relatively easy (even though deepfake and AI technology could make it more difficult in the future). Sadly, most people never do it. We live in a fast-paced world where news, stories, memes, and videos travel fast and change even faster while we scroll. So, most of us tend to gobble the information without any critical thinking… or thinking whatsoever.
All of this is especially true when we’re under strong emotions. Just remember all the fake news that traveled when the COVID-19 pandemic started (the “dolphins in Venice” is probably my favorite). Apparently, this is exactly what happened with the Labrador photo.
One may argue that “it’s just a photo.” Or, as my acquaintance argued when I told her it was fake news, “this photo is timeless” (although she shared it in the context of the Turkey-Syria earthquake). Sure, this may be just a photo, and this one, in particular, is pretty harmless. But think of all the other fabricated photos, stock images, and, ultimately – fake news shared in times like this. They are usually emotionally charged, making us feel even more panicked, sad, and helpless than we already are. This draws us away from actual, useful news that will inform us on everything we want and need to know.
How to fact-check news and photos
I won’t just tell you “fact-check everything you see” and vanish. I want to use this opportunity to share with you some tips and sources that will help you get your facts straight without putting too much effort.
- Listen to your intuition: pay attention to your gut feeling while scrolling the socials. When you see a picture or a story that’s emotionally charged and that makes you overly emotional, don’t automatically share it. When you feel a strong sadness, excitement, or anger over something, become aware of your emotion. And if it’s too strong, make sure to fact-check the piece of information that caused it. I’m not saying that it will always be fake, but a strong emotional charge may be a good indicator that it is and that it needs fact-checking.
- Reverse image search: if it’s a photo that’s causing your suspicion, it’s pretty easy to check its background. Go to Google Images and drag and drop the photo, or insert its URL. From there, you’ll get a bunch of information about the photo that will tell you more on its background. This is how I found Jaroslav’s Labrador image on stock sites and a few animal blogs.
- Google tools: in 2020, Google launched a “Fact Check” label that appears under thumbnail image results once you perform image search. In addition, you can use Google’s Fact Check Explorer and search for any topic.
- Fact-check websites: there are some websites that are all about fact-checking, like FactCheck.org, Washington Post Fact Checker, Politifact for political news, and Snopes.com for pretty much anything else.
- Fact-check Chrome extensions: If you use Google Chrome, you can install plugins like Fake News Detector and Know News.
You will find some highly useful information on fake news and fact-checking here.
How to help Turkey and Syria
As I mentioned, the death toll in Turkey and Syria has climbed to nearly 10,000. Sadly, the numbers are expected to continue to rise. On top of everything, the weather is cold, which is hampering the emergency services and making it more difficult for people to survive under the ruins.
If you would like to help, you can. And you guessed it – it’s not by sharing a heartbreaking dog photo from 2018. If your city has a Turkish or Syrian ambasy or consulate, check if they are receiving donations in food, clothes, blankets, and hygiene products. Many organizations are also collecting financial donations, and here are some of them so you can make a contribution from wherever you are:
- The White Helmets
- Turkish Red Crescent
- International Rescue Committee
- Save the Children
- Global Giving
- Project HOPE
- Humanitarian Relief Foundation
- Direct Relief
- Doctors Without Borders
- The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations