Fake viral images are real images

In one of the best lists of 2015, Factually presents 76 images that went viral. Those images, however, are fake. From Charles Manson as a baby to penguins wearing hand-knitted sweaters. They are all fake. Or rather, the images exhibit one of two signs of fake: 1) they have been photoshopped or altered; 2) the caption or title is misleading. 

However, does it really matter? To go viral means to be seen and shared by an exponentially increasing number of internet users. And, if possible, be translated into a meme. If millions of viewers gaze at the image, take it in, share it, and write how paradigm-shifting the image is in a Facebook status update, it may actually cease to represent or refer to anything considered objective truth.

The copy of the copy becomes the real. 

Those millions of users are unlikely to discover that the image they shared of Justin Trudeau as a baby being held by Fidel Castro to be misleading. The baby is not Trudeau. Does it really matter?

The ontologies of the World Press Photo Competition

Due to a high number of disqualifications for the previous two World Press Photo competitions, the foundation that runs the event has introduced a new code of ethics. The handbook for judging photographs has been released publicly for the first time, and four videos detail what counts as manipulation. Reuters recently banned freelance photographers from submitting photographs that are shot in RAW format. This format allows for more post-production processing and editing.  A Reuters spokesperson stated that their pictures "must reflect reality".

Both Reuters and the World Press Photo Foundation have made very public and very ontological statements about about a photograph is and what it represents. And perhaps more significantly, statements about what photographs should be; that is, they should represent a single, knowable (viewable) reality. At the same time, acknowledges that this reality can be distorted, "manipulated", and changed. 

For the World Press Photo, entrants are now reminded in the new code of ethics that they,

  1. Should be aware of the influence their presence can exert on a scene they photograph, and should resist being misled by staged photo opportunities.
  2. Must not intentionally contribute to, or alter, the scene they picture by re-enacting or staging events.
  3. Must maintain the integrity of the picture by ensuring there are no material changes to content.
  4. Must ensure captions are accurate.
  5. Must ensure the editing of a picture story provides an accurate and fair representation of its context.
  6. Must be open and transparent about the entire process through which their pictures are made, and be accountable to the World Press Photo Foundation for their practice.

Human life as licking, eating, and drinking

On board Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are 116 photographs and images depicting life on Earth. Carl Sagan led a committee to select the images. They are intended to communicate to aliens about human life. You can view all 116 in an imgur post. Included are mathematical formula, landscape photographs, breastfeeding, animals, food, ethnic diversity, buildings, and a letter in English from The U.S President Jimmy Carter. Interestingly, the nude image of a man and women were not included, and only a silhouette was allowed. 

Source:  Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Source:  imgur

Source: imgur

Source:  imgur

Source: imgur

The archaeology of memes: Have you seen this boy?

The BBC is trying to track down the subject of a meme entitled "Skeptical 3rd-world child". The look on the child's face, reminiscent of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson raised eyebrow, created a dialogue. The website Know Your Meme places this image in the category of "Third Word Success" and gives more details of its origins. It was submitted to Reddit by user manute3392 on 22nd June 2012. The photographer was Redditor Neplam, who travelled to Gulu, Uganda as a volunteer of the Student Global Health Alliance (see Reddit comments on the image). The woman in the image is Heena Pranav, a doctor from Chicago. Two other figures, one perhaps Nepalm, can be seen in the reflection of her sunglasses. It quickly went viral, with users adding text to the image to create this dialogue.

Nepalm posted the image to Reddit as well, with a different title, appealing to "Make this skeptical kid into a meme, STAT!". It didn't go viral despite being posted one day earlier. manute3392 acknowledged Nepalm as the photographer in the comments section of the viral image and gave more information about the organisation. You can search for all the other posts submitted to Reddit by both users, a bizarre history of images, links, and in many ways, values. For example, the first post to Reddit made by manute3392 was a photograph of a licence number plate from Virginia. Nepalm submitted a question, asking "what is the most uncomfortable nickname you have ever been given?" 

The ethical issues of such image got swept away by virality, but BBC acknowledged them nonetheless. Who are the parents? What of informed consent and rights to privacy? It doesn't really matter whether the parents knew the image went viral, but whether they knew if the photograph was taken and posted online at all. The internet and social media has challenged conventional standards of privacy. At the same time, however, they've also enabled privacy to be bulldozed and superseded. Digital information, and digital images, once uploaded are difficult to remove. The concept of right to be forgotten, which is in practice in Argentina and the EU, stems from the stubbornness of digital information. Images such as this one take on a life of their own, with duplication after duplication being shared, created, and disseminated.

"We've chosen to publish the picture here because it has already been shared so widely and to highlight the debate it raises." - BBC.