A pale-faced bald girl, tearing up a copy of the United States Constitution. Sounds like a picture out of a dystopian movie, right? But this picture is not a Hollywood creation. Instead, it's an image of one of the leaders of the #NeverAgain movement, edited to show her tearing the nation's founding document in half. A photo of Emma Gonzalez was photoshopped to show her ripping up the Constitution, but you can help stop things like it from spreading.
It all began when Gonzalez wrote an op-ed for Teen Vogue about why her generation is coming out so forcefully on the issue of gun violence prevention. The online piece featured a series of images and short video clips, including one of Gonzalez tearing up a gun-range target printed on tan-colored paper. It's a powerful image. She rips it in half, and then she and the teenage activists behind her — Jaclyn Corin, Sarah Chadwick, and Nza-ari Kehpra — all cross their arms and maintain intense gazes at the camera as the hashtag "#NeverAgain" pops up on the screen.
The paper is very clearly a shooting target, but that proved to be no match for today's photo- and video-editing software. A new version of the animation soon started spreading on Twitter, but it had been changed to show Gonzalez looking paler, and featured the paper as not a target, but instead a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
It's a convincing fake, especially in a social media echo chamber where people are more likely to believe something that confirms their own ideas and where doctored images can be difficult to recognize as fake. Soon after the image began going viral on the alt-right and among gun rights activist accounts and bots, others started spreading proof it had been doctored.
This included a tweet from Teen Vogue executive editor Samita Mukhopadhyay, in which she posted the original and the doctored images next to each other with the caption:
This image (left) being spread by guns rights activists is FAKE and a photoshopped image of @Emma4Change tearing up the Constitution. She's actually tearing up paper target in the pic (right). Spread the word.
Mukhopadhyay was not alone in spreading the word of the edited image. Multiple other people stepped up to do the same thing, including others at Teen Vogue and numerous verified accounts. The correction of the fake image has now gone viral as well, thanks to the myriad news outlets that have picked up the story. And if you want to help stop the spread of this fake image, the best thing you can do is generously share the real one.
Stopping the spread of fake news is a huge subject of debate and discussion, and in a perfect world, people would be able to recognize damning photoshop jobs for what they are before they go viral. However, social media makes it all too easy for fake news and images to spread rapidly — and really, the main thing that you can do to counter that is to make the real news and real images go just as viral.
Or, take a piece of advice from Teen Vogue chief content officer Phillip Picardi — "We ask anyone reading this to report the image and video when they see them. It's our job as civilians to do this work to protect our youth," he tells Bustle. Other solutions that Picardi brought up include Twitter acting more proactively to suspend malevolent bots or Facebook adjusting its algorithm, but this is a solution that you can tackle yourself.
If that sounds like a measly solution, well, it kind of is. That's the scary thing about fake news on social media — it's difficult to stop, and you, the user, don't have much control over the situation as a whole. It's bigger than Emma Gonzalez and one edited photo.
"The thing we're currently digging into is the use of memes against these kids and activists in general — how the alt-right has weaponized memes and internet trends to indoctrinate people and manipulate the truth," Picardi says. "We should all be wary of these tactics heading into our midterm elections because, as we've seen with this particular story, more people fall victim to believing what they see in a Facebook post versus actually uncovering the truth."
There's only one thing that you can control: your own behavior on social media. If you use your voice to amplify what you have verified to be the truth — whether it's true images or well-reported, fully sourced news to counter a fake report. So, for Emma Gonzalez and the #NeverAgain movement's sake, take a moment to share one of the real Teen Vogue images, retweet the side-by-side photos that Mukhopadhyay posted, and report any incidence of the doctored pictures that you come across. These are small steps, but they're concrete actions that you can take.