A politically conservative blog embedded this photograph in a post entitled, "And so it begins...ISIS Glad Among Refugees in Germany Fighting the Police". It has been shared over 230,000 times and is finding its way into other websites and social media. It has no attribution or source credit. It is not, however, the first time this photograph has appeared. In fact, it is over three years old.
The same photograph appeared on the Jewish Defence League UK website on 6 May 2012 in a post entitled, "Muslim Riots in Bonn, Germany, 100 arrested, 2 stabbed". A video appears to confirm the event, but no other footage of the scene in the photograph is shown.
A Google image search reveals that this photograph, of the clashes between two sets of protesters in Bonn in 2012, has been used by a variety of anti-Islamic websites for different events. It seems to have surged in use on these websites in 2015, as the number of refugees crossing European borders dramatically increased.
In many ways, the refugee crisis is becoming defined by photographs. A photograph can communicate policies, emotions, and ethics, the substance of which will be determined by each individual viewer. The channels for communication are such that the almost instantaneous nature of digital sharing and reproduction of images online means that they are open for use and abuse.
Some may argue that this particular image is not even the original photograph anymore. But, that it is simulacrum or a copy of copy. It is so far removed from the original image that it cannot even said to be a copy. It is a simulacrum. French post-modern philosopher Baudrillard opened his book about the nature of reality with an apparent quote from the biblical book Ecclesiastes. (I cannot find this quote in either version of the bible, and it appears to be a paraphrasing perhaps of book 34 of the King James Bible).
“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth - it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true”.
What is the truth of this photograph of people clashing with police? Are they protestors in Bonn clashing with police, and other protestors out of frame, in 2012? Or are they ISIS members somewhere in Germany who crossed the border with refugees? A tweet with this image and a caption that communicates an anti-refugee message is so far removed from what appears to be the original photograph that is no longer can be said to bear any resemblance. It is not a copy of the original. It is simulacrum. It holds its own truth for the tweeter and their audience. On the other hand, it is just the misuse of a photograph, which was produced over three years ago at a protest event in Bonn.