In an iReport World, Who Can We Trust?

Real or Photoshopped?In the mid-2008 media world, every network, blog, and news website wants to break the big impact story in times of developing news. For hours after a 5.3 magnitude earthquake centered near Chino Hills, ~30 miles from LA, rocked Southern California, all of the major networks and their websites continued carrying the news with a red BREAKING NEWS flag attached. But other than shaking up millions of people and scattering items off of shelves, there was no “news” to break (at least as of 4pm, more than 4 hours after the initial temblor).

The photo above first aired on CNN and was sent in by someone who was supposedly in the supermarket at the time — what CNN terms as an iReporter. Sure, it is very possible that many of the paper goods were shaken to the ground during the 15-20 seconds in which the ground, building, and everything else shook. But how are we to know when to believe whether a photo or video is faked, fabricated, or Photoshopped? CNN’s iReport Terms of Use addresses nothing about photo manipulation or regulations. And, to be fair, it’s not just citizen reporters that purposely fake photos for effect or attention, there are the memorable lessons in photojournalism fakery brought to us by the likes of Reuters, the LA Times and most recently, the Iranian government (and here are more.

Considering the small size and low resolution of the above photo, I won’t venture to investigate the possibility that it was digitally manipulated or whether it’s an honest to goodness eyewitness photo. But below, you’ll see a few surveillance camera or eyewitness camera viewpoint of what is clearly either real footage of the earthquake and it’s after affects, or simply fakes.


Surveillance video from Incycle Bicycles store in San Dimas (~12 miles from the epicenter)

Reverse Angle

See also: Earthquake as experienced on the set of Big Brother


5.8 LA Earthquake from 36th Floor — initially cross-posted as fact in this VentureBeat article, the post at was later renamed to include “Recreation” or re-creation in the title. Note, the timestamp of the post is 30 minutes after the 11:42a.m. quake — this could be because it represents the time it was uploaded, not shot, however, it raises a red flag as does the fact that anyone is standing by the window with their phone shooting video for no particular reason during 10 seconds or so of actual shaking.

5.8 LA Earthquake Recreation 36th Floor on

Twitter cofounder Biz Stone commented on the Twitterquake phenomenon this afternoon on the Twitter blog (see image below):

Whether it’s updates from best friends, internet pals, companies, brands, or breaking world events, the real-time aspect of sending and receiving Twitter updates continues to motivate our work.

twitter earthquake los angeles news

Zoliblog comments on the meaning of Twitter breaking two recent California earthquakes as well as recent quakes in China and Japan:

People do take advantage of the relative naivete of social media and don’t hesitate to post fake news to gain 5 minutes of fame. But that doesn’t undermine the importance of speed, which in some cases can provide early alerts and potentially save lives. We need both.

I think the true power of tools like Twitter and social media sites like youtube andn even 12seconds is it’s ability to broadcast to your contacts/peers/circle without a net and without delay. You don’t have to gather or collect either yourself or relevant data like officials and news wires / outlets must. You only need to react, in 140 characters or less.

For more on fake photojournalists, check out this conversation last week on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

5 Replies to “In an iReport World, Who Can We Trust?”

  1. Check this story out. Starred iReporter is exposed as PR flack in disguise. Her iReports, according to this interview with her, were plants of stories for her paying customers. Go to

    Buyer Beware now– not just of mainstream media accuracy and ethics– but iReports too.

    1. Nice find, Rhonda. “it’s really the same ole, same old PR business model, just applied to a new platform…” oh boy. At least with sites such as Digg, users can flag these types of users/posts. With Time/Warner/Turner/CNN you never really know whose interests are being catered to, and what — if any — moderation/verification takes place.

      1. I spoke to the author of this piece “Leonard Witt is the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University and the chief blogger of PJNet..” I asked him if he contacted CNN to complain and ask if they would change policy and put some ethical safety brakes in…he said he had not. He would think about it since he knew this woman.

        It’s frustrating because it seems that we, at, are one of the few media investigations sites that confronts the MsM and reports their bad behavior that results when asking for a correction, for example. On occasion, you do get ethical behavior but sadly not often enough. This extra step–of confronting and reporting what the media does in response–or does not do–is critical for achieving change and, ultimately safeguarding citizens who depend on truth and accuracy in journalism.

        Please check out our site: .

        BTW. I really liked your piece on the earthquake fake photo. Thank you. I will soon add it to our SJ Editors’ Picks section.

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