The Social Media Eclipse

By Jim Colton

They say that if you stare into an eclipse, you might go blind. Unfortunately for social media, that’s already happened. Using the most recent eclipse is a fine analogy of what is happening to the world of photography…which is ironic as the literal meaning of photography is writing with light.

The huge mass of available images (There will be more pictures taken in this calendar year…than in all of history combined) has managed to block out the light…and with it…the truth. The sheer volume of images now being distributed on every social media platform from Twitter to Instagram to Facebook is astonishing.

Many photos are being put out there without any form of vetting or filtering. People are posting….because they can….everything from snapshots of their lunch to the latest cat videos. But “serious” photography is also being uploaded…many claiming to be “newsworthy”…or at the very least…REAL!

Copyright © 2009-2015 Ryuunosuke Takeshige All Rights Reserved.
Background data © European Southern Observatory:ESO contributors, CC BY 3.0 (Id:eso0932a)

Which brings us back to the eclipse. Yesterday, March 20th, there was a solar eclipse viewable by millions on planet earth. It wasn’t long before millions of pictures were taken and uploaded on the internet. One photograph (above) purported to be taken from the International Space Station…was widely distributed and tweeted and retweeted and liked and reliked and before you knew it, hundreds of thousands of people were sharing this glorious image.

When I first saw it, I said, “Damn…that is really cool!” And then…the alarms went off. There’s an old saying that, “If it’s too good to be true…then it probably isn’t.” And another that says, “Believe none of what you read…and only half of what you see!”  I did my due diligence and searched for other frames that might show the sequence.  There were none to be found.  But an image search did find the photo in question…and here are the results:

One:  The photo….isn’t a photo. It’s a CGI (Computer Generated Image)

Two: It wasn’t taken March 20th, 2015 from the International Space Station. It was created in 2009 by Japanese artist Ryuunosuke Takeshige who goes by a4size-ska at Deviant Art:

Mr. Takeshige states on this site:

It's extremely regrettable that my ECLIPSE was used here on Facebook without my permission. I can't say what I have in mind since I'm not good at English.

In the case that you found any websites that infringe my copyright, including the link above, if possible, it would be very helpful if you could warn any copyright infringers not to use my work instead of me. Moreover, informing me of the sites via e-mail will be helpful as well.

Three: As we see and read, this gorgeous creation is now being used worldwide without permission, credit or compensation. (Mr. Takeshige gave me permission to use it as illustration for this blog)

Four: It has been disseminated as “real,” so now thousands, if not millions of people, have been misinformed…or at the very least…duped.

This is only one example of thousands that occur every day. Now more than ever, we need a better filter, which starts with factual postings by conscientious photographers and diligent editors. The cutbacks in our industry have been so severe that not only have we lost institutional history, but many organizations have also lost the basic ability and obligation to fact check.

Truth is the only thing that matters in photojournalism. And it is being eroded every day. Perhaps one day, we will see the light again. 

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