Fake Photographs: Harvey Edition

As usual, fake and misleading images were circulated on social media in the wake of a storm that brought catastrophic flooding to the streets of Houston.

  • Published 28 August 2017


A series of photographs show the impact of Hurricane Harvey.


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It’s practically inevitable for fake or misleading photographs to circulate in the wake of a major natural disaster. So when images of the destruction from Hurricane Harvey first appeared on social media in late August 2017, many users were wary about which images they could trust.

With that in mind, here is a look at some of the most popular (and misleading) photographs that circulated in the wake of Hurricane Harvey:

Shark Swimming on the Highway?

An image purportedly showing a shark swimming down the highway tends to recirculate on social media after any event involving massive flooding. We first debunked this photograph in 2011 during Hurricane Irene, when it was shared along with the claim that it was taken in Puerto Rico. It popped up again in 2015 after heavy rains in Texas, in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew hit Florida, and, of course, in August 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused heavy flooding in Houston. 

This image, however, is actually a composite of at least two different photographs.

Obama Serves Flood Victims in Texas? 

A 2015 photograph of President Obama ladling food onto a woman’s plate was attached to a 2017 claim that it showed the former President helping with the rescue effort in Texas:

The difference between #NotMyPresident &#MyPresident. 

The entire Obama family is in Texas right now serving meals to flood victims. Guess the trumps are too busy going on vacation or playing golf to bother. Do not be surprised when Texas goes blue Republicans. That day is coming soon traitors.

This image is real, but it wasn’t taken in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. This picture was actually taken over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2015 at a homeless shelter in Washington. 

Houston Airport Flooded?

Although Houston’s airports were flooded during Harvey, things weren’t quite as bad as they appeared in this image:

This image does not show an airport in Houston, nor does it show the impact of Hurricane Harvey. This is a digitally created mockup showing what LaGuardia Airport could look like in a future dramatically affected by climate change:

What LaGuardia Airport could look like at high tide with 5 feet of sea level rise, an amount that could occur by 2100, according to some estimates.

Alligator on the Loose? 

A photograph purportedly showing an alligator on the streets of Houston was shared by journalist Katie Couric, but while it was taken in Houston, the alligator’s appearance is not at all related to the August 2017 floods: 

Although this picture was truly taken in Houston, this image is not related to Hurricane Harvey. It was originally snapped in Fort Bend County by Chief Deputy Major Chad Norvell in April 2017. Couric later admitted that she had been “punked”: 

Harvey Loot crew? 

An image purportedly showing a store that had been looted in Houston by the #HarveyLootCrew was also circulated online:

This image, however, is not related to Hurricane Harvey. It was taken by April O’Brien of the Huffington Post and shows a store that was looted after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012:

Mega Aid Pharmacy: Items were scattered throughout the store, and workers had no idea where or how to begin cleanup.

Fleeing in a Fridge?

A photograph showing three people using a refrigerator as a makeshift boat was also shared as if it were related to Hurricane Harvey:

This image is real, but it is not related to Hurricane Harvey. It was taken in April 2016 after heavy rains hit the Greenspoint area of Houston:

It was an area hit so hard that families had to escape their homes floating on air mattresses, dads carrying babies in bins, moms and babies riding in refrigerators and others too afraid to trudge through the water took help from strangers while waiting from aid from the City of Houston.

Trump Tweet? 

In addition to fake photographs, we also saw at least one fake tweet supposedly sent by President Trump:

This tweet does not appear on Trump’s timeline, nor is it included in any of the various databases which archive tweets deleted by the president. This fake tweet was most likely created with a “tweet generator” in an attempt to mock some of the president’s genuine tweets (which some critics called “bombastic“) about the hurricane. In fact, this fake tweet could be considered a more exaggerated version of the following (genuine) messages:

Hurricane Harvey?

Although most of the fake Hurricane Harvey photographs we encountered focused on the flood waters, we came across one that purportedly showed the storm as it approached the shore:

This image does not show Hurricane Harvey. It has been circulating since at least 2003 (when it was shared as an image of Hurricane Isabel) and is possibly a digital creation. 

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