Ginni Thomas is her own woman. The fact that her husband is an associate justice on the Supreme Court has never prevented her from sharing her point of view. At times, her activism has included advocating and organizing on issues that are certain to appear on the Supreme Court docket. She has also been known to share conspiracy theories — including the fevered fantasy that George Soros is preparing to engineer a coup against the republic.
There is no doubt she is a loving and devoted wife. So devoted that she once sent Anita Hill, a former colleague of Thomas’ who accused him of sexual harassment, a voicemail asking for an apology.
Fact-checking is clearly not part of her process. So when a meme began moving around the internet of a photo of a Mexican law officer supposedly bloodied by the “caravan” — in her mind, a hoard of savage beasts hell-bent on invading via our southern border — she was among the first to post it on Facebook.
Yet this photo is fake — or at least the story Ginni Thomas is telling about it is false. It was taken in 2012 and has nothing to do with the caravan. Snopes made the ID yesterday.
Ginni Thomas isn’t alone. Thousands of posts featuring this photo and the false story ascribing this to Honduran immigrants are currently flying around the internet and being shared millions of times.
This story implies that we are facing invasion by people so dangerous that many right-wing conservatives are advocating we meet the migrants not with the normal process for processing claims of refugee status, but with bullets.
Why is Facebook allowing this to continue to be shared? It is false. It’s a DMCA violation — the photo is an editorial picture owned by Getty Images being used out of context and without a license.
Photographs have an under-appreciated power. They don’t merely represent the facts of a situation; they underly the emotional memory of an event. Consider the famous photo of the naked child running from a napalm attack in Vietnam.
It is difficult to think of the Vietnam War without recalling this photo. That recollection changes everything — including how we interpret other information about the event.
Consider this photo from Iraq that shows a soldier, face blackened from battle and bleeding from a cut on his nose, smoking a cigarette.
I recall wondering at the time whether that photo would be the symbol of the invasion of Iraq. Or perhaps it would be the one below taken by the late Chris Hondros at Tal Afar, after a car came a little too close to a checkpoint. The car hadn’t been full of terrorists but contained a husband and wife and their two children. When the Marines opened fire — which they did exactly as they were trained to do when someone doesn’t stop for a checkpoint — the parents were killed, almost liquefied by the high-powered projectiles that peppered their sedan.) This image is from the aftermath.
In my younger years, I yearned to be a photojournalist. I was okay, though I never had the skills of greats like Chris Hondros or Robert Capa. But I did learn the power that a photograph has that the written word rarely does — the power to make a moral demand on the viewer, a demand to act.
The photo that Ginni Thomas shared and that Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and others are allowing to be misrepresented at a massive scale, is dangerous. If the networks are sincere in their claims that they are responsible corporate citizens, they must act. Not tomorrow, not in a few hours. Right now.