Macron, Celebrities Fact-Checked After Sharing Fake Viral Photos of Amazon Fire

August 27, 2019 Updated: August 27, 2019

French President Emmanuel Macron is among those to have shared photos of the burning Amazon forest that were later revealed to be fake.

Graphic images of forest fires—unrelated to the current blaze in the Amazon basin other than by virtue of the fact that they vividly portray burning trees—are going viral after being shared by famous people with exceptional reach on social media platforms.

The photo tweeted by Macron on Aug. 22 was captioned with a spirited note calling the fires an “international crisis.”

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!”

But the photo was taken by Loren McIntyre, a photographer who died in 2003, according to the publication Mother Jones.

The gripping—but misapplied—photos have been shared by Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jaden Smith, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, and Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.

Speaking to his 34.5 million Instagram followers on Instagram, DiCaprio wrote on Aug. 22: “The lungs of the Earth are in flames. 🔥 The Brazilian Amazon—home to 1 million Indigenous people and 3 million species—has been burning for more than two weeks straight. There have been 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since the beginning of this year—a staggering 84% increase over the same period last year (National Institute for Space Research, Brazil).”

The Oscar-winning actor then included a photo that, according to the Wayback Machine, was taken by photographer Mohsin Kazmi in December 2015.

View this post on Instagram

#Regram #RG @rainforestalliance: The lungs of the Earth are in flames. 🔥 The Brazilian Amazon—home to 1 million Indigenous people and 3 million species—has been burning for more than two weeks straight. There have been 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since the beginning of this year—a staggering 84% increase over the same period last year (National Institute for Space Research, Brazil). Scientists and conservationists attribute the accelerating deforestation to President Jair Bolsonaro, who issued an open invitation to loggers and farmers to clear the land after taking office in January.⁣ ⁣ The largest rainforest in the world is a critical piece of the global climate solution. Without the Amazon, we cannot keep the Earth’s warming in check. ⁣ ⁣ The Amazon needs more than our prayers. So what can YOU do?⁣ ⁣ ✔ As an emergency response, donate to frontline Amazon groups working to defend the forest. ⁣ ✔ Consider becoming a regular supporter of the Rainforest Alliance’s community forestry initiatives across the world’s most vulnerable tropical forests, including the Amazon; this approach is by far the most effective defense against deforestation and natural forest fires, but it requires deep, long-term collaboration between the communities and the public and private sectors. ✔ Stay on top of this story and keep sharing posts, tagging news agencies and influencers. ⁣ ✔ Be a conscious consumer, taking care to support companies committed to responsible supply chains.⁣ Eliminate or reduce consumption of beef; cattle ranching is one of the primary drivers of Amazon deforestation. ✔ When election time comes, VOTE for leaders who understand the urgency of our climate crisis and are willing to take bold action—including strong governance and forward-thinking policy.⁣ ⁣ #RainforestAlliance #SaveTheAmazon #PrayForAmazonia #AmazonRainforest #ActOnClimate #ForestsResist #ClimateCrisis 📸: @mohsinkazmitakespictures / Windy.com

A post shared by Leonardo DiCaprio (@leonardodicaprio) on

Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo shared a 6-year-old image on Instagram with his 181 million followers, writing, “The Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and its been burning for the past 3 weeks. It’s our responsibility to help to save our planet.”

The image shared by Ronaldo was taken by a Getty Images photographer back in 2013, Mother Jones reports.

Fact-checks by Mother Jones, Agence France-Presse, and other publications found that many of the photos shared by stars were from other fires, including blazes in California and India.

“Every viral photo of the Amazon fire has been fake,” wrote Mother Jones Editorial Director Ben Dreyfuss. “But when we pointed that out people got mad at us and told us that if we loved fire so much we should marry it. We decided against marrying the fires and instead found some real photos you can share.”

“There are very real fires burning in the Amazon and they do deserve more coverage, but there’s a big problem with this viral campaign: Most of the photos claiming to show the fires are fakes,” the Mother Jones article noted.

Madonna, Djokovic, and Smith shared a photo that did show a fire in the Amazon Rainforest. AFP noted, however, that the image was taken in 1989. The agency wrote that “celebrities are unwittingly spreading misinformation.”

One celebrity bucking the trend is volleyball bronze medalist Ana Paula Henkel, who represented her native Brazil in four Olympic Games.

“Mr Macron, the Amazon does not produce 20% of the planet’s oxygen,” she wrote in a response to Macron’s tweet.” Secondly, the photo you used is very old from years ago, that’s called ‘fake news’ these days and does NOT help the Amazon. Last but not least, you have an approval rating of 22% in France, fix your house first.”

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM

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