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Amazon rainforest fires: How to spot inaccurate photos on social media

Politicians and celebrities alike have mistakenly shared out-of-date or incorrect images in reference to the Amazon fires.

Amazon fire

View of a fire in the Amazon rainforest near Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, on August 25, 2019.

Joao Laet / AFP/Getty Images

It's easy to let your emotions take the lead during a tragic situation like the fires in the Amazon rainforest. Social media led the charge to draw attention to the fires that went largely ignored by most of the world for about three weeks. Twitter users started hashtags like #PrayforAmazonas, #AmazonRainforest and #ActForTheAmazon before politicians began to speak out. 

French President Emmanuel Macron was one of the first foreign leaders to tweet about the fires. Macron came under criticism for sharing an outdated photo on social media. Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna also shared incorrect photos. Some of the images were of past fires in the Amazon and others weren't of the Amazon at all. 

Sharing photos is supposed to drive home a point about the gravity of a situation. The photos lose their meaning if they are misleading. Here are a few ways to make sure a photo is accurate. 

Google reverse image search

It doesn't take much work. If you spot an image on social media or another website, try to do a reverse image search. In Google Chrome (or a Chrome-compatible browser like Brave) simply right-click on the image and choose Search Google for Image. This works if you install the Chrome Extension or at images.google.com

For example, a tweet that might pull on the heartstrings is of an emergency responder giving water to a koala amid a charred forest. If you search this image in Google, you'll see that it's actually from the Australian bush fires in 2009. 

Tin Eye

Tin Eye's reverse search engine is also useful. The layout is a bit easier to navigate than Google's. It seems to filter out social media pages. Just Google an image, drag it over (or upload it) to the site and check out your results.

Getty Images

Many news organizations and reporters will use pictures from media company Getty Images. While you have to pay to use the photos, you can use the site to monitor how recent images are for free. Open Getty Images and search Amazon rainforest fire, for example. When you click on an image, you can see who took it and when. You can also read a description of the image for extra information, like where the photo was taken. 

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