Disturbing images

Here is another gruesome and disturbing image being circulated on social media in respect of the unfolding crisis in Myanmar (the annotations are mine).

Of the seven photographs used in the collage, four appear to be genuine, capturing current or recent events. One I am doubtful about. The remaining two have been repurposed from completely unrelated events.

The first photograph (1) — which appears to show Buddhist monks presiding over a massacre of scores of people — in fact shows Tibetan monks preparing for a mass cremation of people killed during an earthquake in China in 2010. This was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, in which over 1000 people died and more than 11,000 were injured. The original image can be found in the Getty Images library.

The second photograph (2) — which suggests that hundreds of people were burned alive by Burmese forces — has been repurposed from the so-called Catastrophe of Sange, where 230 were killed when an oil tanker exploded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2010. Details of the tragedy and similar images can be found on the Reuters news website.

The Sange image already has a long history of misappropriation by different political groups, where it has been misattributed to violence between Muslims and Christians. Christian and Right Wing activists have variously described the photo as a massacre of Nigerian and Sudanese Christians, and conversely by Muslim activists as a massacre of Muslims. Neither claims are true.

Images (3), (4), (5) and (7) appear to be genuine photos related to conflict and refugee flight in Myanmar. The earliest copy of the third photograph (3) I can find is on the Turkish news website, Sabah, dated August 2017.

The earliest copy of the fourth photograph (4) is dated December 2014. The earliest version of the fifth photograph (5) is August 2017, where it was circulated on Twitter, including by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

The seventh photograph (7) appears to be a genuine photo of refugees from Mynamar in Bangladesh, but dates from 2012, when it was available as a stock photo available from Corbis Images. Corbis has been sold to Visual China Group and the original image appears to be no longer available.

This leaves us with the sixth photograph (6) — which appears to show drowned refugees — which I am not sure about. The earliest copy of this photo that I can find is from December 2016, where it is linked to violence in Myanmar. It may well be genuine, therefore, even if not from the current crisis.

That said, it is nevertheless visually similar to photographs from Cyclone Nargis, which hit the country in May 2008, and during which many bodies were left to rot in flood waters. Similar images can be found in the Getty Images library. For this reason, I cannot be certain of the veracity of the fifth photograph.

Update: I have now seen the sixth photo from another angle, which reportedly shows the aftermath of a ferry accident in Myanmar on 17 October 2016. 

As can be seen, those compiling these highly effective images for social media are once again mixing truth and falsehood. Whether they do so maliciously or innocently, by using images that have been passed onto them and reused in good faith, is obviously unknown. However it behooves all of us to verify the information we receive as far as we are able to, before passing them on — even if received from a trusted friend or scholar. In this — as I have said many times before — the Reverse Image Search and perseverance is your friend.

It is not befitting the believer that we pass on everything that we hear (or see) without first at least investigating the claims — however emotionally convincing the disturbing images that flash before our eyes.

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