A collage of images that went viral on social media depicting battered and bloodied police officers – and suggesting Democrats and Black Lives Matter demonstrators were responsible – has been shown to be disinformation.
The social media post included four photos of police officers suffering from various injuries, including one man whose face was wrapped up in bandages.
A post accompanying the photo claims the officers were assaulted by BLM activists and Democrats.
“50 police officers were injured by Dems and BLM rioters over the weekend in Portland, Seattle and other nearby cities,” the post claims. “Pray for their safety.”
OregonLive first reported that while the photos of injured police are real, they’re depicting police officers in Australia, and their injuries did not occur over the weekend.
The photos cover a range of incidents in Australia between 2006 and 2019.
The photo in the top left of the collage shows an officer kneeling and bleeding from his head. The photo was taken in 2012 during a protest in Sydney, according to local news reports.
The photo on the top right shows a young woman officer covered in scratches and bleeding from her head and face. Local news reports from the time said she was bitten and scratched in 2019 when a parolee she was visiting for a welfare check attacked her.
The bottom left photo shows a police officer lying in a hospital bed in a blood-stained uniform. His eyes are closed and he appears to be in pain. He was attacked while trying to break up a bar fight, according to local news reports on the incident.
The photo on the bottom right depicts an officer with a badly swollen face – most of which is obscured by bandages – lying in a hospital bed. News reports of the incident suggest he was beaten with a brick during a fight in Western Australia.
While police officers have been injured during the protests that began in the wake of the George Floyd killing, the post was clearly made to deceive and further inflame the country’s political divide.
Disinformation like the officer collage tend to blend fact with fiction in order to produce a desired response in a group.
US intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that countries hostile to the US are trying to sow discord by promoting disinformation on American social media networks. However, foreign entities are not the only ones trying to capitalise on chaos; plenty of home-grown dealers of deception have profited from the largely unregulated world of social media its market of content-hungry consumers.
The Washington Post spoke with the Alethea Group, an organisation that combats disinformation, about how creators make money slinging lies online.
“This is for-profit fearmongering enhanced by aggressive data collection,” Cindy Otis, the group’s vice president of analysis, told The Washington Post.
Building and maintaining a basic website is a relatively minor time and skill investment for a company, especially when compared to the potential profit it can turn by churning out fake stories that go viral.
The content creators pull images – or entire news stories – from unrelated or past events, rewrite the headlines and either suggest or outright state the stories occurred recently. Then they unleash them on social media, hoping to stoke anger and use the resulting outrage to drive shares and engagement.
When people click on the stories, the websites collect their data and then sell it off to marketing companies, who can then create their own targeted content and advertisements.
“It’s a huge crisis,” Chris Vargo, a data analytics and digital advertising professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder said. “There are thousands of these sites, fuelling hyperpartisanship, reinforcing people’s existing beliefs and making it possible to target them with dangerous disinformation about anything from an election to a vaccine for the coronavirus.”
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