Spotting a viral hoax: Debunking the fakes from Hurricane Irma

Ruptly VU
Ruptly VU
Sep 7, 2017 · 2 min read

Viral hoaxes and fake news are inevitable during a major weather event. Delivering real-time, authentic coverage of Hurricane Irma posed an expected challenge for RTDD as targeted misinformation gained traction online.

Amid the plethora of genuine, first-hand content shared on social media, some hoaxes claiming to depict the category 5 hurricane, as it made landfall in the Caribbean islands, amassed millions of views.

One hoax video has so far garnered more than 27 million views on Facebook.

Here’s how we debunked this viral fake.

We ran a reverse Google image search to find the original, which returned another hoax claiming to depict a tornado in Colombia. This hoax, however, predated the Facebook video claiming to be Irma.

Therefore we knew for certain that the Facebook video was a fake. But we wanted further clarity.

Using Amnesty’s Dataviewer, we dug further into this hoax and found an earlier version — purportedly showing a tornado hitting Uruguay.

Below is the earliest version of this footage and dates to May 29, 2017.

RTDD geolocated the location of this footage to the city of Dolores in western Uruguay.

Although we cannot verify this video from Uruguay as the original upload, we can with certainty conclude it shows Dolores in Uruguay.

Another video widely shared online claimed to show Hurricane Irma hitting St Maarten. It’s a little more difficult to spot that this one is a fake.

Here’s how we verified this video.

We firstly verified the purported location of the video using Google Maps. It’s filmed at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort in Sint Maarten.

A reverse image search did not return any results but when we searched for the area on social media using search terms associated with past hurricanes the below video was discovered.

Dated 2012 the video has a shorter running time but follows the same filming pattern as the fake video. Distinct features seen in both include what appears to be two sandbags placed beside the swimming pool.

And while we can not verify that the video is the original upload, its’s dated 2012 — that provides enough information to debunk one of the most widely shared video purporting to show Hurricane Irma hitting St Maarten.

Ruptly VU
Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade