How to lie terrifyingly well on social media

The above image, with its NOAA badge and science palette, apparently shows the spread of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident:

This “out-of-control flow of death and destruction” sure looks terrifying, right? Which is precisely why it is still being shared widely on social media despite the fact that it is:

a) three years old

b) complete bullshit.

While the image is NOAA’s, it shows the wave height of the tsunami following the March 2011 earthquake, as the uncropped image makes perfectly clear:

The full picture (NOAA)

Doublecheck before hitting Share!

When I actually clicked through and read the original article, I couldn’t believe anyone could be taken in. Honestly, what’s wrong with you people?

Here’s a Top Tip: when an apocalyptic article is published on a site called “End Time Headlines” (“NEWS AND HEADLINES FROM A PROPHETIC PERSPECTIVE”), you might want to doublecheck before hitting Share.

FYI, here’s how I did a little scratching around:

1. Check the image

A reverse image source is simple (right click the image and choose “Search Google for image”). In this case it brings up hundreds of articles:

Now if I’d bothered reading a few of them, I’d have discovered the truth earlier and not bothered with Step 2. Which goes to show that everybody suffers from Internet Impatience.

2. Check the source

Instead I decided to check the source: NOAA’s site. After all, it’s their image.

Firstly, I added the “site:” qualifier to the above Google search:

No similar images on NOAA’s site

Nothing. What I didn’t know was that Google didn’t search NOAA’s subdomains. More on that later.

So I decided to text search NOAA using Google’s “Best guess for this image”, above.

No mention of fukushima radiation on NOAA’s site either

Nothing again. That struck me as odd — how could NOAA not address Fukushima?

So I went and searched NOAA.gov for “fukushima radiation”
Plenty to read — but no mention of that alarming image.

So what was that image?

While by now it was clear that the image had nothing to do with radiation, I had to go back and read my Step 1 search results to find out what it actually was.

And when I had, I then did Step 2 — i.e. checked the source, searching NOAA’s site for “wave height tsunami Tohoku”… and found everything I needed (start here).

Two takeaways here:

Use “site:” with caution

Google’s “site:” operator generates false negatives — only when I knew the image was on the nctr.pmel.noaa.gov server did I manage to find it on Google.

Bullshit travels faster and further

The above post appeared on my feed today. Even 5 years later, the truth has not caught up with the lies.

Perhaps it never will: if you scroll back to Step 1, you’ll see that Google’s “best guess” for this image was “fukushima radiation map”.

Google’s “best guess” was “fukushima radiation map”

But it has nothing to do with Fukushima radiation.

I assume Google’s “best guess” is derived from the “Pages that include matching images” search results. So when we’re fooled, so is Google. Which then propagates the foolishness.

So don’t be part of the problem. Mind what you read, and read before you share!

But seeing as you’ve read this far, don’t forget to Recommend and Share this!

Further reading

The reason, of course, that outright lies travel so well online is that people prefer reading things which reinforce their beliefs.

Filter Bubbles aren’t new:

But as most of the other 50+ resources about filter bubbles on my Hub spell out, it’s fair to say that social media is making it worse.

And the bad news is that the Next Big Thing is probably going to make things much, much worse:

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