“I believe Antifa left this behind when they were kicked out of their Seattle autonomous zone,” Drew Hastings, a comedian and former Mayor of Hillsboro, Ohio, wrote on Twitter.
Attached to his tweet was an image of garbage spilling over, what Hastings implied, was a sidewalk in Seattle. Activists had apparently left behind the rubbish after police pushed them out of a section of Seattle that protestors had occupied without police presence for a little less than a month.
Hastings has close to 40,000 followers on Twitter and 27 accounts retweeted his post. However, the photograph wasn’t a picture of trash in Seattle’s ‘autonomous zone.’ It wasn’t even a picture of Seattle rubbish. It was refuse from beyond the Rockies, Great Plains and Appalachia. It was Greenpoint garbage.
Hastings’s tweet is one of many social media posts that have repackaged the likely aftermath of a trash fire on the corner of West and Huron Streets in Greenpoint as a scene from Seattle’s protests. The image has spread throughout Twitter, Facebook and meme websites since early July, shortly after police re-entered Capitol Hill, a neighborhood in Seattle.
Jared Lauridsen, a resident of Brooklyn, recently noticed the photo circulating on Facebook among his more conservative friends back home in Alabama. He was immediately skeptical.
“I suspected it was NYC due to the street sign,” he said in a message to Greenpointers.
After recognizing what he thought was an MPG Parking Garage sign (a parking garage chain in Greenpoint and other parts of the city), he found the building depicted in the photo via a quick search on Google Maps.
“I explained to my friend that it was not Seattle but didn’t get a response,” he said.
Manny Lorras, a tenant in the building complex near the corner of West and Huron Streets, confirmed that the image is “1000%” of the building on that corner. He also thinks it “has to be” the trash fire that occurred on that street on June 2 of this year.
“When the fire department came… the hose pressure blew out the window,” he explained, having received much of his information about the fire from one of the doorman in his building complex.
Building management boarded up the broken window that day, Lorras says. Whoever took the photograph must have snapped it soon after the fire department came, according to Lorras’s version of events. (A window in the image is shattered.)
Most posts attributing the aftermath of the trash fire to Seattle appeared on or after July 5, per a reverse image search on Google.
One Facebook account, however, posted the image on July 4. With a profile picture seemingly lifted from the cover of a romantic Western titled Along Came a Cowboy (the novel is a story of a “hot cowboy, a twisted killer, and one very resilient woman”), Dawn Jo Branch‘s account is suspect at best. Her earliest post dates back to only March of this year, and she (he, they or it) incessantly links to news sites with a conservative, sometimes conspiratorial, bent.
Greenpointers asked Dawn Jo Branch where she found the image of Greenpoint garbage, but she hasn’t responded. More than 8,000 people have shared her post of trash in “Seattle.”
Unfortunately, this type of photographic trickery is common, explains Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and researcher who investigates the spread of misinformation across social media.
“False photos are critical currency in the world of mis- and disinformation,” he said in an email to Greenpointers. “If conservatives are using the Greenpoint trash fire fallout to go after protesters in Seattle, that would be a very typical use of misidentified photography.”
He pointed to an image said to be of Congressional Representative Ilhan Omar wielding a gun, which turned out to be a photograph taken in 1978 at military training campus in Mogadishu, three years before Omar was born, according to The Associated Press.
“Any event that gets people’s ideological juices flowing now seems to generate false or manipulated images,” said Barrett.
Drew Hastings, who has a larger social media megaphone than most, doesn’t know where he found the picture he posted on Twitter.
When asked how he felt having shared a misidentified photograph, Hastings declined to comment.
“And as far as my feelings on sharing it, I have none,” he said in an email to Greenpointers.
Update: Drew Hastings has since deleted the tweet mentioned in this article. Greenpointers reached out to him to see why and will update accordingly if he responds.