Debunking 5 Viral Images of the Migrant Caravan


A group of Hondurans heading toward the United States has been the subject of misinformation on social media.

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Central American migrants, who are part of a caravan of migrants trying to reach the United States, hitchhike on a truck along the highway as they continue their journey in Tapachula, Mexico October 22, 2018.CreditCreditUeslei Marcelino/Reuters
Kevin Roose

A group of Honduran migrants traveling through Mexico toward the United States has attracted enormous amounts of attention in recent days, including a litany of false, misleading and unproven statements circulating on social media.

Some of this misinformation has been fueled by statements from officials in the United States, including President Trump, who spread an unproven rumor that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” were among the group. (He later admitted there was “no proof” for his statement.) Other rumors have been shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Here is a closer look at five widely shared images of the caravan, along with why the claims made about them shouldn’t be taken at face value.

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Note: Names and identifying information of individual Facebook users have been redacted for privacy reasons.

Images of injured police officers went viral after being posted to right-wing Facebook groups such as Trump Train, Make America Great Again, and the Diamond and Silk Fan Page. They have also gotten thousands of retweets on Twitter. The caption on one Facebook post read, “Mexican police are being brutalized by members of this caravan as they attempt to FORCE their way into Mexico.”

Several Mexican police officers, along with migrants and journalists, have been injured in caravan-related incidents, according to reports citing United States and Mexican officials.

But these are old photos unrelated to the caravan.

One widely shared photo, of a bloody police officer, was taken in 2012 at a student protest in Mexico, and was on the website of the European Pressphoto Agency.

A second widely shared image, of a police officer with a bloody nose, appeared in a 2011 news article about a clash in Mexico’s Oaxaca region, according to Factcheck.org, which reviewed the images. And a third photo, of an injured police officer, can be traced to a Mexican news article from 2014 about protests in Mexico’s Guerrero region.

Still, the photos were shared tens of thousands of times, including on Facebook by Virginia Thomas, the wife of the Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.

One viral Facebook post claimed to have photographic evidence that the migrants in the caravan were not traveling on foot, but were instead boarding buses and trains. The post was shared more than 80,000 times.

But a reverse image search indicates that the photos in the post are not from the caravan. The first photo, of migrants sitting on top of a train, was taken in 2013, according to The Associated Press website.

One of the photos on the Associated Press website.

The second photo, of migrants boarding a bus, was taken for Agence France-Presse during another Central American migrant caravan in Puebla, Mexico, in April.

CreditGetty Images screenshot

Fears about imported diseases are common among critics of migrant caravans. This image was shared by the Twitter user @TIMENOUT:

The image of the tweet, which was then shared to Facebook, received thousands of shares after being posted by several large groups, including one for followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The image was mislabeled. It is not from the caravan of Honduran migrants; it is from a 2014 news segment on illegal border crossings aired by an ABC News affiliate in Arizona. In the segment, a Border Patrol agent claimed that people in contact with unauthorized immigrants had contracted scabies, a contagious skin infestation. Medical experts told PolitiFact in 2015 that there was no evidence that unauthorized immigrants were causing an uptick in disease at the border.

There are no known reports of diseases being carried by members of the Honduran caravan.

Over the past several days, conspiracy theories have argued that the caravan was organized or supported by the American left.

One video showed groups of migrants receiving what appeared to be cash. The video, the origin of which is unknown, was posted on Twitter by President Trump and Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida. Mr. Gaetz suggested that the video contained evidence that the migrants had ties to George Soros, the liberal billionaire who is a fixture of right-wing conspiracy theories.

Mr. Gaetz made several errors in describing the video, including saying that it was shot in Honduras (it was shot in Guatemala), and later tweeted a partial explanation, saying he believed the video had been shot in Honduras because a Honduran official had sent it to him. The video was not deleted, and has been viewed millions of times.

On Monday, a pipe bomb was delivered to Mr. Soros’s house.

Another series of images appeared to show migrants getting into trucks, and related posts insinuated that Democrats had funded the vehicles.

The images — which appear to have been taken from video filmed by Anne Laurent, a freelance journalist in Mexico who was covering the caravan story for ABC News — were shared to The Deplorable’s and other right-wing Facebook pages with captions such as “Supporters of the DNC are donating money to create caravans.” The images were also widely shared on Twitter, with tweets insinuating that Mr. Soros and other “globalist bankers and activists” were involved in helping transport the migrants.

There is no information tying the trucks to American groups or individuals. Open Society Foundations, the organization founded by Mr. Soros, has denied involvement.

A widely shared Facebook post claimed to show three photographs of migrants in the caravan burning an American flag as they approached the United States. The post has been shared more than 19,000 times on Facebook.

But according to Snopes, the fact-checking site, none of the images are of caravan members, and none were taken this year.

“One of the images doesn’t even feature a flag, another was taken in London, and all of them are at least two years old,” Snopes wrote.

Reverse image searches reveal that the first image was taken at an anti-Trump rally in New Mexico in 2016 — it shows a protester burning a Trump banner, not an American flag. The second was taken in London at a 2010 demonstration, and the third was taken at a street protest in 2016, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

There is one photo known to show Hondurans burning an American flag, which has circulated widely online. That photo, which was taken this month in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, showed a group of people burning a United States flag with a swastika rendered on it. The photograph’s legitimacy has not been disputed; however, several right-wing news sites, including Breitbart and Infowars, have given the photograph misleading context, implying that it showed members of the migrant caravan. In fact, according to Snopes, a caption on the original photo said the flag burning took place hundreds of miles from where the migrant caravan was that day.

Kevin Roose is a columnist for Business Day and a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine. His column, “The Shift,” examines the intersection of technology, business, and culture. @kevinroose Facebook



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