The Damaging Consequences of Fake News


    On September 2013, photographer Alison Buttigieg encountered a cheetah kill in Kenya. The photographs she clicked on the field depicted the cheetah mother teaching her cubs how to strike and kill an impala (antelope). The impala is shown frozen with fear as the cubs play with it for a few minutes before going in for the kill.

    The photos were magnetic and became viral on social media. However, someone anonymously added a sentimental story to the photo series as it did the rounds on social media. This story alleges that the impala had sacrificed herself in order to prevent the cheetahs from attacking her fawn. Further, this photo was supposed to have captured the last moments of the Impala as it sees its fawn safe. Going further, the story also claims that the photographer went into depression after seeing this show of motherly selflessness.

    The story while reaching to touch the heartstrings of many unsuspecting folks on social media, is patently false. However, the story has gone viral along with the photos and now it has been shared by thousands on social media. People have empathised with the story and celebrated the mother’s love that was apparently on display in the photo. Further, hundreds have reached out to Buttgieg expressing their support and condolences to her during her “depression”.


    Buttgeig herself took to her social media account to post this statement:

    “A highlight of my photography career has turned into a nightmare. My Stranglehold photo went viral in a huge way with a completely ridiculous fake story accompanying it, and implications I fell into depression after I took it (seriously who comes up with this c**p?!?) – not to mention the gross copyright violations. Sensationalism at its best – complete fiction so that people get more likes on their page. The photo with the fake story has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on various social media. I am getting inundated by hundreds and hundreds of messages asking me whether I am the “depressed photographer”. I have been tagged in LinkedIn with the fake story – that’s going to do wonders for my career. What a vile world we live in, full of stupid gullible people spreading #fakenews like crazy.”

    You can argue that the story was concocted and spread out of good intentions, however, it still does not justify claiming that someone has slid into depression. This is awkward for the photographer and demeaning to actual patients of depression. Further, spreading fake news is a dangerous activity and one that can easily be manipulated next time by people with not so good intentions. Viral fake news can be used to stir hatred and spread lies very quickly, and the damage once inflicted may never be healed.

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