Unverified photos and information often don’t get very far on social media platforms as networks of people around the world are quick to react to and correct any improper use.
This is exactly what Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib realised this past Sunday as one of his tweets, containing an incorrectly attributed photograph, attracted close to 60 responses in less than an hour.
Habib used a picture from the Syrian conflict that was taken in February this year and incorrectly atrributed it to the current conflict in Gaza.
The photo that shows the legs of a corpse sticking out from underneath rubble had been mistakenly used on social media several times in the last few weeks.
“The consequences of Obama’s defense of Israel’s war in Gaza. How could we have allowed him to talk at Madiba’s funeral,” Habib tweeted.
Following the reponses to Habib’s tweet, he apologised and later tweeted, “the photo was copied from an earlier tweet.”
But he remained resolute in his point, tweeting that he “could find another photo to demonstrate this but what would be the point.”
“Let’s deal with the substance -children are dying,” Habib tweeted.
The incident happened at a time when the circulation of false information, and in particular, photos, is occurring more frequently via social media platforms.
But coupled with the ease of sharing information, is the ability to share unverified information which can be damaging.
In the case of Malaysia Airlines flights 17 and 370, a story about a Dutch cyclist who was booked to go on both flights (but at the last minute changed his mind) was widely circulated a week ago.
However, it was soon discovered that there was no proof that 29-year-old Maarten de Jonge ever bought a ticket.
In these instances, fiction becomes fact very quickly as information is taken out of context or passed off as the truth. The impact and consequences of sharing fale information can be dangerous, especially because information can reach more people, in a shorter amount of time.