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10 Viral Photos That Were Proven To Be Hoaxes

by Cheish Merryweather
fact checked by Jamie Frater

There is no denying that we are bombarded with fake images every time we go online. From the world of politics to the entertainment world, these pictures can range from photoshopped locations to hilariously doctored memes. It’s difficult to navigate which photos are the real deal and which are a complete hoax.

These following images were all so convincing that they managed to reach viral stardom—only for those who shared them to be left red-faced when they were proven to be nothing more than elaborate jokes. It just goes to prove the words of Mark Twain: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

10 JFK And Marilyn Monroe

Photo credit: Alison Jackson

John F. Kennedy Jr. and Marilyn Monroe’s speculated love affair filled newspaper columns around the world after she performed a steamy rendition of “Happy Birthday” at his 45th birthday in 1962. The blonde bombshell was one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood, and five years prior, she was photographed engaged in conversation with JFK at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. What the cameras didn’t capture that night was that Marilyn was there with her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, and Jackie Kennedy was also in attendance.

More recently, new photos emerged of JFK and Marilyn, captured in a window together allegedly cuddling up. The photos were actually mocked up by British photographer Alison Jackson and two impressive lookalikes. Jackson is well-known for composing images of political and famous figures in compromising positions.[1]

9 George W. Bush’s Upside Down Book

Photo credit: Snopes

In 2002, President George W. Bush visited the George Sanchez Charter School in Houston and read a book with the schoolchildren. He was pictured beside a young girl reading from America: A Patriotic Primer by Lynne Cheney, and the photo was published by the Associated Press. Then the Internet decided to flip the book Bush was holding, and it appeared as if he was reading upside down. The photo went viral, and Bush became an unintentional laughingstock.

Despite being the butt of many jokes online, Bush praises the media for keeping politicians like himself in line. In 2017, he stated, “I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. That we need the media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”[2]

8 Soldier In Iraq

Photo credit: Brian Wlaski/LA Times

During the Iraq War, a staff photographer named Brian Walski was working for the Los Angeles Times when he captured an image of an armed British soldier who appears to be signaling for a man carrying a child to take cover in Basra. The Pulitzer Prize-worthy photo was published on the front page and widely circulated around the world.

Then the picture was outed as a fake. Walski had manipulated two different photographs to create the dramatic image. In the original photograph, the man and child are in the background and not in the direct eyeline of the soldier. The photoshopping was discovered when another employee noticed that the background appeared to be a duplicate of the original photo’s.

Walski left the newspaper after 20 years as a professional photographer. He stated, “I offer no excuses here. I have tarnished the reputation [of the Los Angeles Times]. I have always maintained the highest ethical standards throughout my career and cannot truly explain my complete breakdown in judgment at this time. That will only come in the many sleepless nights that are ahead.”[3]

7 Tourist Guy On 9/11

Photo credit: Teh Meme Wiki

In the weeks following the September 11 attacks, the Internet was overloaded with photos, videos, and eyewitness statements about what happened that tragic day. One photo, however, stood out more than the rest—a man known as “Tourist Guy” standing on top of the World Trade Center with what appears to be a plane about to strike in the background. The message that originally accompanied the photo read: “This is just an astonishing picture. This was from a camera found in the wreckage of the WTC, developed by the FBI for evidence and released on the net today . . . The guy still has no name and is missing.”

The Internet wasn’t so savvy in 2001, as this photo would have been debunked almost immediately today. The plane in the picture is a Boeing 757, not a 767, which American Airlines Flight 11 was. Then it was discovered that the picture was of 25-year-old Peter Guzli from Budapest, who had manipulated a photo of a previous trip to New York as a “joke” between friends. He admitted, “I intended this joke for my friends only, not for people who did not know me.”[4]

6 Jeffrey Dahmer In The Snow

Photo credit: Robert Lyle

One of the most famous and widely circulated images of cannibal and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is of him posing beside an “ice bong.” Dahmer was responsible for the murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys from 1978 to 1991. Since 2013, when the photo appeared on Reddit along with the caption: “So I just found this photo of Jeffrey Dahmer . . . ” it has been known to appear on many lists of rare serial killer photographs. It was supposedly captured in 1978, when Dahmer was briefly a student at Ohio State University.

However, the photo has been debunked several times, and it merely shows a college student who bears a striking resemblance to the depraved killer. Snopes named the student as Scott Burgeson, since the original posting of the photo was captioned: “a snow bong sculpted by scott burgeson.the wide angle lens distorts the subject.the . . . um . . . sculpture was about 8 feet tall.”[5]

5 Vladimir Putin As KGB Spy

Photo credit: Pete Souza

Despite many people wanting to believe this is true, Vladimir Putin did not meet Ronald Reagan while the former was working undercover as a KGB agent. The photo above was released by President Barack Obama’s official photographer, Pete Souza, clearly showing President Reagan during his first visit to Moscow in 1988, and Souza claimed that Putin stands on the left with a camera strapped to his neck. People speculated that the re-release of the iconic image in 2009 was a part of a political smear campaign.

Souza told National Public Radio, “Now what is really interesting is a picture I have in my Reagan book. Off to the left is one of these tourists with a camera around his shoulder and it has been pointed out to me and verified that that was Putin. As soon as you see the picture you go: ‘Oh my gosh, it really is him.’ “[6]

The photo has been discredited, however, and the man with the camera is not Putin. In 1988, Putin was indeed serving as a KGB spy, but he was based in the East German city of Dresden, nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) from Moscow. Also, during his time in Dresden, Putin was reportedly heavier than the man in the picture due to beer-drinking.

4 John Lennon And Che Guevara

Photo credit: Taringa!

Even though this photo would have us believe that John Lennon and Che Guevara both enjoyed a jamming session together on their guitars, it simply never happened. The photo has circulated online, and since both the Beatles singer and the Argentine Marxist revolutionary were prolific figures in the 1960s, the photo was convincing at first, but it was later proven to be a complete fraud. The original instead features Lennon and guitarist Wayne Gabriel.

The timeline doesn’t quite match up, either, as the Beatles released their first album in 1963, and over the next four years, Guevara was fighting in Havana and Bolivia. Lennon would have been only 23 years old, yet the “Imagine” singer certainly appears a lot older in the picture.

In 1967, Guevara was executed by the Bolivian army at the age of 39 years old. After he was shot, his hands were cut off as proof of the death, and his body was buried in an unmarked grave.[7] In 1980, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were returning home to their Manhattan apartment when Mark David Chapman shot him four times in the back. Lennon was rushed to the hospital but pronounced dead on arrival—he was 40 years old.

3 Hurricane Harvey Shark

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey ripped through Houston and Southeast Texas and caused $125 billion worth of damage, which affected the homes of 30,000 people. It was the first major hurricane to hit the United Sates since 2005, and 107 people lost their lives. The floodwaters that consumed the remaining communities were hazardous and contained E. coli and coliform bacteria. If that wasn’t scary enough, one Twitter user decided to introduce a shark as he tweeted: “Believe it or not, this is a shark on the freeway in Houston, Texas.”

The tweet racked up more than 80,000 retweets, even though it was clearly a fake. The exact same photo had been used as a post for Hurricane Irene in Puerto Rico in 2011 and again during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The original image was captured in 2003 by photographer Thomas P. Peschak in South Africa for National Geographic. Peschak was balanced on the side of a research boat, not sitting in a car.[8]

2 Kids Misspell ‘Romney’

Photo credit: TechPresident

In 2012, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ran for president of the United States. The Republican Party nominee posed for a photo with a group of children whose shirts appeared to spell out “R-Money.” Romney’s staggering net wealth—estimated to be between $190 and $250 million—was often criticized as “vulture capitalism.”

However, the picture was photoshopped. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson sent the photo viral after he retweeted it with the caption: “why oh why did Mitt Romney pose for this picture.” Later, he confirmed in another tweet, “The Romney photo was photo-shopped but it speaks volumes that so many on the right weren’t surprised assuming it was real.”[9]

Romney missed out on the presidency to Barack Obama, who won 51.1 percent of the popular vote, compared to Romney’s 47.2 percent, as well as 332 Electoral College votes versus Romney’s 206.

1 Albert Einstein On Bike

Photo credit: Imgur

In 2011, an image of Albert Einstein cycling away from a nuclear explosion was widely circulated. The photo of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist was real and taken in 1933 in Santa Barbara. However, the background is quite obviously doctored, although apparently not too obviously, as many still believed the event depicted actually happened. The picture of the explosion, which is being observed by the military, was taken in a desert in 1962 at a test site in Nevada—seven years after Einstein’s death.[10]

We could be led to believe that the image pays homage to Einstein famously claiming, “I thought of [the theory of relativity] while riding my bicycle.” In a letter to his son, Eduard Einstein, he also advised, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Since his death in 1955, aged 76 years old, Albert Einstein has been the subject of or inspiration for many novels, films, and plays in addition to becoming one of the most easily recognizable historical figures.

Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone Charles Manson was only 5’2″ or at home reading true crime magazines.
Twitter: @thecheish


Read about more notorious hoaxes on Top 10 Biggest Hoaxes In History and 10 Clever Hoaxes That Fooled Experts.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Cheish Merryweather

Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone Charles Manson was only 5ft 2" or at home reading true crime magazines. Founder of Crime Viral community since 2015.

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