I am one of those exceedingly annoying people who, when presented with a collection of photos (especially concerning an incendiary issue), insists on running them through a reverse image search to check that they really are what the person posting them claims them to be. It may be an obsessive compulsive disorder, or it may be a concern about the truth: I’m not even sure myself.
This lunchtime, when presented with heartbreaking photos from eastern Ghouta, I found myself doing the exact same thing, possibly because I thought I recognised some of them.
And sure enough it turned out that the first image, showing a huge explosion in a densely-populated civilian neighbourhood was from Gaza on 29 July 2014; the second image was made up of two photos: the top part featuring a plane was from Gaza in July 2014, while the bottom part was a Red Cross photo from Syria in December 2013; the third photo featuring two Russian bombers was from Syria, but the photo was published on 11 November 2016; the fourth photo, showing another large explosion, was from 24 February 2015. Most of the remaining 20 photos appeared to be new and authentic, however.
Afterwards, apart from rebuking myself for my insensitivity to the situation for the innocents caught up in Syria’s utterly horrific conflict, this thought suddenly occurred to me: does it actually matter? Does it matter if people mix truth and falsehood if, ultimately, it captures the horror of the situation.
Of course, from a religious perspective, we are commanded: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.” But if a person splices together photos from other conflicts with photos of a current conflict, which nevertheless conveys what is actually happening, is that really mixing truth with falsehood?
To date, my position has always been that it is absolutely wrong to repurpose images from other conflicts (or even non-conflicts, such as accidents) to illustrate a current struggle. Today, faced with my own insensitivity to the innocent victims of this atrocious conflict, I wondered about that.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the tragedy outweighs the need to prove every single image authentic. Maybe my concerns are completely misaligned. Maybe I have got it all absolutely wrong, my priorities skewed and misguided. Maybe I should pack the reverse image search away, and expend my efforts on more important tasks.
But I know I won’t. It must be an obsessive compulsive disorder.