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False photos cloud social media storm reporting, weather service finds

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published April 14, 2014 at 1:48 p.m.

this-photo-on-twitter-purported-to-be-from-the-benton-wal-mart-but-the-national-weather-service-says-it-was-actually-taken-last-year-in-louisiana

This photo on Twitter purported to be from the Benton Wal-Mart, but the National Weather Service says it was actually taken last year in Louisiana.

As heavy rain fed flash floods in parts of Arkansas on Sunday night, Twitter user @EvanCaddy posted a photo of a flooded Wal-Mart parking lot with an unfortunate pickup listing at a downward angle in water nearly up to its driver's side window.

"Serious flooding at Benton Walmart," the accompanying caption read. "Stay inside."

It looked to be another in a series of compelling flood photos that made the social media rounds during and after the Sunday night deluge.

But it wasn't.

The National Weather Service checked out the photo, finding it was actually taken in July 2012 in Louisiana and sent out with the false caption in an apparent attempt at online trickery.

John Robinson, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service, said it's happening more and more.

Whenever a storm packing heavy rain and strong winds moves through Arkansas, it's usually not long before a flurry of photos hit social media. But among the tweets and retweets of flash floods, downed trees or damaged homes, there's often photos like the Wal-Mart one that seem to be intentionally posted with false information.

The weather service ferrets out such images through reverse photo software that allows them to search the Internet for an identical shot. If they find one posted before the storm it's purporting to represent, it means the photo probably isn't legitimate.

That process takes time and while that doesn't diminish efforts to issue storm warnings — the meteorologist in charge of that for a particular storm isn't the same one checking out the social media images — it does slow down efforts to distribute real storm photos.

"Let's say that it is a high end situation," Robinson said. "Let's say someone sends in a picture with quite a lot of damage. Chances are, we're going to check that picture before we send that report out. So if it was indeed a valid report, then we've used up time when people could have realized there really is a bad storm out here. But we've got to check to make sure the picture isn't fake."

Robinson said the weather service has seen such false photos online since it joined Twitter in 2012. Last year, a photo of the May 20, 2013, Moore, Okla. tornado was spread with a caption suggesting it was in Garland County. And another one last year was distributed claiming to be a shot of a tornado in Horseshoe Bend when it had actually been taken earlier in Mountain View.

The Wal-Mart photo wasn't the only false one to hit Twitter feeds Sunday. Twitter user @Will_DeYmaz posted — and hours later deleted — a photo of a man and a cat swimming from floodwaters surrounding a pickup.

The caption said it was taken in Natural Steps, Ark., but it was really a 2013 image taken in Canada.

That photo garnered a number of retweets before it was deleted. Some users also called out the poster, noting the photo and caption were a deception. @Will_DeYmaz eventually admitted it was a fake, using the #ARWX hashtag that refers to Twitter posts about Arkansas weather.

"I'm sorry to all the people of #ARWX for my tweet earlier that mislead a lot of people!" he posted just before 10 p.m. Sunday.

The apology fell short for some.

"I wouldn't have called it misleading," Robinson said. "I would have used a different adjective there."

Neither @Will_DeYmaz nor @EvanCaddy responded immediately Monday to requests for comment made through the social media network, though @EvanCaddy removed his photo after the request was made.

He did not immediately remove a post he shared on his own Twitter feed from another user who seemed to enjoy the false image.

"Hahaha my dude @EvanCaddy has the whole town and more freaking out after that picture," the post read.

Comments on: False photos cloud social media storm reporting, weather service finds

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Murphy01 says... April 14, 2014 at 3:08 p.m.

Uh yeah, not on twitter so I wasn't part of the "whole town freaking out". Sounds to me like a couple of computer dorks need to get a life. Sitting around looking for fake weather pics to post on the net. I guess they got bored playing dungeons and dragons, or with each other?

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killdevil says... April 14, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.

This is sad, really sad. We suspect this is more common than not with the media but is there any wonder that most Americans believe nothing they read, see on the Internet or watch on TV. An honest, ethical free press is dead. As are the networks, and other news outlets. Only thing worse is our elected officials and politicians. They lie through their teeth, and say anything for a vote.

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GCW says... April 14, 2014 at 5:54 p.m.

Yeah, well the photo is still a warning of impending climate change.

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arkateacher54_aol.com says... April 14, 2014 at 6:25 p.m.

The Great Cloud of Stupidity grows ever thicker. The internet, that great information highway, is choked with idiots with nothing better to do than intentionally or unintentionally spread false information. AND - warning of impending climate change? Whenever the picture of the truck was taken, it was NOT the first flooded parking lot in history. Or the worst.

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HM2 says... April 14, 2014 at 8:35 p.m.

Climate change; the greatest hoax perpetrated upon mankind. there is no such thing as global warming, and climate change is just a natural phenomenon, It changes all the time, and there is nothing man can do to stop it or make it worse, so get a life.

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RBBrittain says... April 14, 2014 at 8:42 p.m.

Flooded parking lots? Back in the 1978 Little Rock flood, the old Asher & University Kmart was ITSELF flooded. And this dork didn't even bother to photoshop properly; that side of the Benton Walmart is the GROCERY entrance, NOT "Home & Pharmacy". Not to mention how much of Benton would be in DEEP, DEEP water if it were true...

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LevyRat says... April 15, 2014 at 6:29 a.m.

Like this media, Twitter will let any jerk, like me post something ...... unfortunately the AR D-G just prints anything someone tells them without checking to see if it is true. Ever wonder why people don't believe the TV, Radio and Newspapers anymore.

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phoenix1 says... April 15, 2014 at 7:22 a.m.

The old saying, " You can't believe everything you hear," should be updated to include,"you can't believe everything you see, either."

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95Dakota says... April 15, 2014 at 7:34 a.m.

Actually there are a whole hell of a lot of people who believe what they read on the internet, or whatever media, if they know where to look.

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ArkansasNative says... April 15, 2014 at 9:09 a.m.

WOW you mean to tell me the Democrat-Gazette and Gavin Lesnich had nothing better to print? Since when did the whole town of Benton start following Evan Caddy on Twitter? This was about as entertaining as Farris Bueller's Day Off.

How many times has the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette or other media outlets printed incorrect data? When they find their mistake, they usually make a very small correction three or four days later. Evan removed the picture when he was notified that it was not the Benton Wal-Mart so...what's the purpose of this story? Did the D-G really gain anything by bringing in peoples names or twitter accounts?

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