As storytellers, we know that images are a powerful way to tell our story.
In today’s world of limited attention spans, pictures are worth a thousand words because nobody wants to read that much text, so we use an image to convey our point.
But as more and more images make their way to our screens via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, we have to be more and more wary that the images are truthful, something I’ve written about before.
It’s too easy to take an image at face value and share it with your friends. But once you do — regardless of how large or small you are — your credibility is at risk.
The image above was shared by the NBC News Instagram feed the day after Pope Francis was introduced to the throng outside that was waiting for his first appearance. With no caption to speak of, it’s pretty easy to understand the picture they were trying to paint.
While NBC never said both images were taken from the same spot in Rome, it’s certainly implied that the point was to show technology’s swift advancement in society, using the introduction of a Pope as its focal point.
But when the Washington Post pulled back the curtain, we learned the image from 2005 was taken during Pope John Paul II’s funeral procession, while the 2013 shot was taken two days ago. Two very different events, and two very different situations.
To be fair, NBC’s account didn’t say they were taken at the same time, eight years apart. But their caption didn’t say they weren’t taken at the same time, either.
When I stumbled across the image, I shared it on Facebook. It was too powerful an image not to. But when I learned that what I shared wasn’t entirely truthful, I shared the Washington Post story, as well. I felt that I owed it to the people who commented on the image to get the whole story.
This situation is eerily similar to the image of the guards standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier during Hurricane Sandy, except it wasn’t during that storm. However, that little bit of info didn’t stop people from continuing to share the image. Undaunted by the facts, the image still made its way around the ‘Net.
Understandably, nothing bad, per se, came from sharing the image above, nor did anything “bad” come from the picture of the soldiers, unless you want to count society’s tolerance for inaccuracy as a casualty.
If you use Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you owe it to yourself, and the tens (or hundreds or thousands or millions) of people who follow you, to share images that are accurate and real.
The real world (and the people who inhabit it) is already fuzzy. We don’t need the digital version to complicate matters more.