by Constantine von Hoffman

How to Spot Fake Disaster Photos (and Other Lessons from Hurricane Sandy)

Oct 31, 20122 mins
Security blogger Constantine von Hoffman shares lessons he learned from Hurricane Sandy, including tips on how to spot a fake disaster picture; why media outlets shouldn't report on information posted to random message boards; and why intentionally passing along false information during emergencies is a really bad idea.

Here’s a quick list of online lessons I learned from Hurricane Sandy.

It’s not all bad news: Gawker and Huffington Post were down for a while due to the storm. This blessed relief came because of flooded servers belonging to Datagram in New York City.

How to spot fake photographs of disasters:

1: Are there oddly happy people present in the images?


2: Do they remind you of something you paid to see in a theater?


3: Do the images remind you of yet another terrible sequel to something you paid to see in a theater?


4: Does one of these things not look like another?


Not everything on the internet is true: CNN and The Weather Channel both reported that the New York Stock Exchange flooded. Their source: a post on a message board. The news was then picked up by a bunch of additional media outlets. Oooops.

The Washington Post actually checked on the story and found:

“Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, dismisses via e-mail any notion that his people would have undergirded such a report. ‘I know for sure we would not have been the original source of that information. Our offices and employees are all out on eastern LI.’ He elaborates, noting that his understanding is that ‘those reports originated via social media from local NYC media. That report was then mentioned in a forecast oriented chat room discussion. But the NWS is not the direct source of the report.'”

If you purposely pass on bad information for a giggle you will get caught: During the height of the storm Shashank Tripathi, a hedge-fund analyst, used the twitter handle @comfortablysmug to pass along false reports. The following image contains one of the more tame tweets.


Tripathi was busted by Buzzfeed. He then resigned from his other job as campaign manager for Christopher R. Wight, the GOP candidate for the U.S. House from New York’s 12th congressional district.