Lies, Damn Lies and Photoshop – Update

I decided to post a follow up to my previous post on the Occupy Wall Street photoshopped image, to clarify a couple of details and dispel some of the rumours going around.

Firstly, the origins of the image itself. The original photoshopped image was produced by digital artist Scott Lickstein, who intended it to represent a “virtual 99% turnout”, ie what the OWS protests would look like if all of the people supporting the movement online could turn up at the protests in person (thanks Terrance for the info). Whilst Lickstein’s other work certainly has a political bent to it, this piece was never intended to mislead people into believing it to be a real image. I mention this because it appears that Lickstein has had accusations levelled at him of deliberately faking the image to misinform the public and/or discredit the movement. To the best of my knowledge this is not the case.

The crowd in the original Google maps image along the south-east side of  Broadway is real, and captures a protest of New York City fire fighters against the cutting of twenty fire companies by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in June, 2011 (thanks Erik for the link). Lickstein expanded the crowd to fill the streets around City Hall to represent all the online supporters of the movement.

The image was picked up on the web by some people believing it to be real, and several individuals added their own captions to the image implying that the image is a real representation of the protests, and that the mainstream media was covering it up. This was when it came to my attention, and I decided to demonstrate that the image is fake and try and prevent it from being further disseminated as truth. I was not the first person on the internet to point it out as a photoshopped image.

Secondly, the rumours. A number of people have made insinuations against myself, and the photoshoppers who produced the image which I’d like to try and set straight.

Its been suggested that the people who photoshopped the image and spread it around are in fact right-wing counter-protesters seeking to discredit the Occupy Wall Street movement. I have seen no evidence of this and am of the opinion that those people are indeed trying to generate support for the movement.

It’s also been insinuated that I am a paid Wall Street shill who faked the whole thing to discredit the movement. As evidence of this some people have pointed to the fact that my blog has ads (as many blogs do) which sometimes include ads from banks. Yes, my site has ads (one ad to be precise). Yes sometimes these may be ads for banks. However despite more than 100,000 hits in the past few days, these ads have generated a pittance in revenue, barely enough to buy a cup of fair trade coffee. The ads are an experiment, to gauge Adsense’s viability for a future project. They are untargeted, unoptimised, and random. They are selected automatically based on the content of the page they are on, so naturally a page discussing Wall Street will at some point have ads for a bank on it.

In the last couple of days my site has suffered numerous outages due to the enormous amount of traffic coming in. This culminated in my site being temporarily suspended due to the unprecedented load on the shared hosting on which it sits. Some people encountered this suspension message and concluded that my site had somehow been censored by the powers that be. This is patently false, and once I moved the page to an external site my account was reactivated and traffic resumed as normal.

When I wrote the original post about the image, I didn’t know the full story of its origins. I was just pointing out that it was a fake. In that post I suggested that the organisers of the Occupy Wall Street protest may have had some involvement in the creation of the image, a statement which turned out to be false. However the image was being distributed by supporters of the protests, including on the official OWS website and on the Daily Kos (the image has since been removed from both sites). I believe that these people had the best intentions, I was just disappointed to see people distributing such an image without questioning its authenticity. Whilst I respect the protesters for what they are doing, I stand by my assertion that lying to support your cause, whether intentionally or inadvertently, does more to help those whom you oppose.

16 Replies to “Lies, Damn Lies and Photoshop – Update”

  1. I just wanted to say that I appreciate you speaking out on this. I had my doubts when I first saw it, too. It sounds like unfortunately chaos has ensued in your life since investigating it, but thank you so much for pointing out the truth.

  2. Good that you write this!

    If I got a penny every time a fb-friend posted the fake picture with the “mainstream media is not showing the whole picture”-caption, I’d have… 12 pennies.

    And I live in Sweden and we hardly hear about this Wall Street movement at all. So the fake picture is probably the first thing people see and if that’s fake.. well then that’s bad.
    So now I add this link to those pictures so people know what’s up.

  3. Hi – Thanks for this!!! I have been emailing and telling people to stop sharing this image for the very reasons you state. The truth is more powerful than lies!

  4. I can understand why the image slipped by the protesters mental defence mechanisms. As someone who went to a lot of protests in the 90s we often had rather large protests reported as small ones. One I went to around the iraq war (I guess early 2000s) had a few thousand people, according to our, the polices and the general evidence of the photography. But the televisions reported it as “a couple of hundred”. This was a fairly regular occurrence, and it becomes galling when the few right-winger protests we’d see would end up with the opposite phenomena. There was an anti-carbon-tax protest just near my office, maybe 50-60 people, really a small crowd around a podium, and the press reported it as “hundreds of protesters”. After enough of that one starts getting a fairly reasonably informed bias, but a bias none the less about press reporting of protests.

    Its that whole thing of an assumption containing a whole bunch of bullshit but sometimes a small sliver of truth. I guess someone saw this photoshop, didn’t know the context and just went to town on it.

  5. Hi Tim,
    Very interesting investigation you did! Thanx, I support the protests, and, like others have pointed out, would keep on doing it regardless of the amount of disinformation. Interestingly enough, I ran into the pic on a FB page of a ‘reputation manager’ from Manhattan who is tired of the protests and was using your post to ridicule them.

    Let me recap the story, if I understand it correctly, for the benefit of new arrivals:
    Scott Lickstein created the pic as an art piece, Jason Weinstein decided to use it as fake propaganda, a lot of people unknowingly spread it, you and other skeptics debunked it.

    I don’t support lying, but I don’t believe in ‘reality’ or ‘the truth’ either, so I find this quote from Scott quite appropriate: “Remember, because I made it doesn’t mean that it isn’t real.”
    Cheers, Jergas

      1. When I read your original article I was so hoping that the photoshop and commentary WERE actually supposed to be ironic. As I read through the comments I was surprised that no one mentioned that, and planned to say so myself if I didn’t see it mentioned by the end… and then I read Jason Weinstein’s reply and was so disappointed.

        I Scott Lickstein’s concept is not to my taste, but at least he had genuine good intentions with his work. The addition of the text would have been such an ironic slam on all the misrepresentation in the media, and if it had been originally posted as that would have been very effective in supporting the OWS movement. Too bad Weinstein’s such a moronic asshole that he couldn’t figure out that he should spin it that way to cover his ass.

  6. There’s a lot I want to say about not just this photograph but how it has been handled here at timparkinson.net, because to me it remains contentious on a number of levels that I think need to be identified to get some clarity on what is going on here, as I feel quite strongly that there is more to this than meets the skeptical eye. I’ve discussed this with some friends and I would like to share my perspective. From one skeptic to another, here goes.

    In the page mirror of Lies, Damn Lies, and Photoshop (https://sites.google.com/site/timparkinsonnet/) , Tim Parkinson said towards the end of that article “I do however find it supremely ironic that a group who is supposedly protesting about corruption and lies would produce such a blatant piece of propaganda.”

    The assumption that the “group” who is protesting would produce this blatant piece was clear and obvious and needed to be questioned. This is further to a point a friend of mine made when he saw this. All said and told, we have no idea who actually produced this photo, even now, so I find it ironic that a proclaimed skeptic such as yourself, Tim, would point out this image for its fakery and use evidence to support that while simultaneously making the assumption about who actually produced it when this article was written. For someone who is familiar with the “two wrongs” logical fallacy, making an assumption like that was ripe for expressing an agenda that now cannot escape questioning. Tim had no evidence to support that assumption, or at least, didn’t discuss it when it was written. Why not?

    Later on, it is shown that Jason Wettstein produced it, while Tim originally referred to the “group” of protestors as having produced it. Assumption debunked, right there, but he wrote it, in plain sight, before any word from Jason.

    Tim said in his article “I respect that people have their own opinions and beliefs, however I have no respect for those who blatantly lie to defend their beliefs.”

    That so-called lack of respect was based on an unquestioned, unverified assumption about who actually produced the photo before Jason Wettstein was even mentioned. Without discussion therein, I find the double-sidedness of Tim’s take within that article rather troubling.

    In the follow up you’ve posted Tim, you said “In that post I suggested that the organisers of the Occupy Wall Street protest may have had some involvement in the creation of the image.” But that’s not true. You say they MAY have had some involvement, but I quote you originally as saying “I do however find it supremely ironic that a group who is supposedly protesting about corruption and lies would produce such a blatant piece of propaganda.” Saying that this group “may have had some involvement” is pretty far away from previously asserting that a group who is protesting “WOULD PRODUCE” this piece (with no evidence to support that assertion). Your follow up doesn’t even properly acknowledge what you originally said.

    Your take on this is questionable all around, Tim. You say now that you didn’t know the full story or its origins, yet you placed the assumptive label on who produced it and why. From what I’m reading, you seem biased to want to believe that this image was doctored by the protest movement and proceeded to undermine their credibility with no evidence to support who created it. I don’t see the eyes of the skeptic there. So then, when Jason Wettstein stepped up to the plate, what did that say about your take on the “group” of protestors who produced this photo?

    Is it not bizarre how a person could proclaim themselves a skeptic that focuses on facts and evidence and have the desire to hunt for evidence about a falsity like this photo while simultaneously making assumptions about where that photo came from, who produced it, and why? Does Tim not possess the intellect to see through his own assumptions and biases like that? He has the intellect to be logically skeptical. Why does he apparently not have the intellect to call into questions his own assumptions? And then, why in his follow up has he failed to address this properly, literally misquoting himself? Where’s the consistency of the skeptic in that?

    To cap that point off, in the comments section, someone even questioned this – “Did protestors actually make or promote this image? (If not, the criticism is unjust.)” Travis Roy, Tim’s friend who identified the photo, said “Regardless of the intent, when I saw it this morning it had been shared over 50 times on facebook by, mostly, Occupy Wall Street supporters who took the image as real.”

    He assumes the intent – regardless of the intent. My discernment tells me that you guys WANTED to believe that this image was created by OWS protestors. The fact that you haven’t even addressed that leaves me questioning your intentions on calling this photoshopped photo into question to begin with. Amazing, when stacked alongside your skeptical view of the evidence. Your claim on why this was created is a giant hole you didn’t even want to address, still don’t, but were eventually forced to anyway, albeit briefly, in the comments section, probably by actual supporters of Occupy Wall Street.

    And then, there’s the attempted downplaying. This is when this all gets very interesting, because your story is so full of holes Tim that this point just stacks itself on top of an already heaping pyramid of unanswered questions. In the comments section, Travis says “We were just debunking the image and showing it as a fake.” No you weren’t. You debunked it, showed it as fake, and pointed the finger to who did it without any evidence or discussion to support it and applied reasons to why they did this. Is that not an agenda right there, misidentifying itself and clearly questionable? Coming from self-proclaimed skeptics, isn’t this a bit of a stretch?

    Here is Tim’s original written paragraph in full: “I have no strong opinions regarding what these people are protesting about. I’m sure they believe their cause is just and I respect their right to make a stand. I do however find it supremely ironic that a group who is supposedly protesting about corruption and lies would produce such a blatant piece of propaganda. Especially one so readily falsifiable. I respect that people have their own opinions and beliefs, however I have no respect for those who blatantly lie to defend their beliefs.”

    Really, what was your intention in saying all of that, Tim? Where is the responsibility for taking to task the method, the so-called skeptical viewpoint, the so-called evidence of this entire issue, and everything that was said there, given what has since transpired?

    On to Jason Wettstein. Later, in the comments section on the mirrored site, Travis posted – “Reply from the image creator is in: “yes its photoshopped I was hyping the event lol you do know the news is lying to us all day long. So they have CNN and Fox the 99% have me lol. Sincerely, Jason Wettstein”

    Then, later, Jason shows up on the forum to speak for himself. Does Jason Wettstein speak for the masses of people who are down there protesting? No, he does not. He is one person, claiming sole responsibility. No “group” produced this. Furthermore, I find it fascinating that slapping a guy’s name after a quote containing a couple of lol’s had then affirmed, through the Internet, supposedly, conclusively, that he was responsible and that his intentions were clear, only to have him show up to provide details on his responsibility for it, and then to find out later that it was a different Stein, a Scott Lickstein, who produced it. And then, Tim doesn’t even mention a word of this in the follow up.

    Jason eventually told all the “nazi trolls” to FO at 2:50 PM on October 1, to which Tim replies, 19 minutes later: “I’m pretty sure if I was an art school graduate I would have put a little more time into the graphic than I did, but thank you for your concern regarding my employment status. There is no need to get nasty. That rant has earned yourself a ban from the comments. I will however leave your final remarks online so that people can see what kind of person you are. Good luck with overthrowing global financial tyranny.”
    So, what kind of person is this, really, Tim? Does he even exist? Who were you talking to? Is this Scott Lickstein in disguise? It can’t be, because Scott Lickstein has a different story. It has now been revealed that Scott Lickstein created the image with a supposed intention of representing a “virtual 99% turnout” on the streets in New York. Is that even true? How would we know? We don’t.
    So, Tim, who was Jason Wettstein and what was the entire discussion about in the mirrored page of this issue? Why did you want everybody to see what kind of person he was if you didn’t even bother to follow up on who he was or what he said? Literally, not a word.
    There are a TON of questions here that have not even come close to being addressed, and to me it seems that discernment over the very method by Tim and Travis in taking this photo to task are as questionable as the photo itself. It’s fascinating to me how Tim and Travis speak intellectual “skeptic talk” and simultaneously fill up their claim with assumptions that are later proved to be incorrect, followed by Tim’s insufficient line of explanations that don’t even properly acknowledge some of what had previously been said. This kind of dualistic religious skepticism of the “facts” is what keeps me from taking anything you have said here at face value, keeps me questioning your skeptical point of view entirely, and keeps me from taking ANY skeptical point of view that relies solely on evidence, at face value, without looking at any intention therein, from start to finish. Discernment is key here, and skepticism MUST be applied to itself.
    So which is it? Did Jason Wettstein create the photo in response to the “lies from the media” or did Scott Lickstein create it as a virtual image of something that hasn’t actually existed?

    Nearing the end…I humbly suggest that all of this says absolutely nothing about the protestors of Occupy Wall Street. But the entire article was initially written with a claim attached that it is “supremely ironic that a group who is supposedly protesting about corruption and lies would produce such a blatant piece of propaganda.” Looking at the follow up and what has NOT been said, who really is questionable here?

    This story, the “skeptics”, their take on it and the photograph are so full of holes that I am very, very curious as to what the TRUE INTENTION of producing, releasing, discussing, so-called debunking and following-up on this has really been all about. It’s not based in skepticism, let me say that loud and clear. There is a bias here that is reflected in the holes leading to the questions that have not been answered in Tim’s follow up.

    You commented, Tim, in one of your responses on October 1, at 3:47 am – “The motivations of the originator of the image are irrelevant when they are unknown to those down the chain.” Irrelevant indeed, coming from a self-proclaimed skeptic who investigates everything, right? What kind of skepticism are you actually practicing there, good sir?

    In conclusion, we have to speculate on the possible reasons for why this photo was produced and disseminated and discussed and supposedly debunked as much as we need to take to task the photo itself. To focus on one and avoid the other is insufficient. To assume otherwise while purporting evidence to support a conclusion is logically inconsistent. To view one story and then another and not ask questions of the linkages between the two is unacceptably shortsighted.

    Tim Parkinson – I would love to hear a full on, detailed discussion about this entire story about this photograph, because, right now, your attempt at debunking anything here has, for the moment, been thoroughly debunked.

    We are the 99%.

    ~David Ward

  7. OK, so Scott Lickstein is the real creator and Jason Wettstein is just some troll, is that it?

    Good work and thanks.

    1. Thank you for your response Josh. You said “Most importantly, the assumption that Tim made was a reasonable one, and hardly worth a second thought.”

      No way. First of all, Tim is a self-proclaimed skeptic. If you’re going to investigate something like this from that perspective, you would NEVER make a FALSE ACCUSATION like he did. That accusation was based precisely on the very prejudice that I see entertained frequently these days, often leveled against so-called “conspiracy theorists” and the “far left”. Skepticism? Please. That’s an agenda to the core. And if anybody knows ANYTHING about Occupy Wall Street, it has NOTHING to do with left and right. If you really are a fellow 99%er, Josh, good sir, you would know that through and through.

      I’m glad the photo was debunked, thank you for that, Tim. But attaching an accusation as to who created it only to have that accusation debunked is as questionable as the creation of the photo itself. And to ignore that line of questioning is really to a biased skeptic, which is just a travesty of that perspective.

      1. You’re right I probably shouldn’t have made that assumption. However I don’t necessarily agree that the assumption is false. It seemed clear at the time that whoever created the image was involved with the movement in some capacity. OWS is a grassroots movement, with no defined leadership. How do you draw the line between the members and supporters of a grassroots group, and the group itself ? This image was created by supporters of the group, disseminated by supporters of the group and posted on the group’s official website. If a group is happy to have its supporters make statements on its behalf, then it must take responsibility if the statements turn out to be false.

        I actually wrote up a long reply to your comment David, however I held off on posting it until I was sure it was what I wanted to say. As it stands I’m disinclined to explain myself in minute detail to satisfy your criticism. Some of the points in my reply may become the subject of further posts, however as far as I’m concerned I’ve been up-front about my intentions from the beginning, and presented the evidence to the best of my knowledge. Unless further evidence is presented which contradicts mine, I consider the matter to be closed.

        1. Fair enough. I will join your rank and consider the matter closed. Thank you for responding in any case, and while I apologize for seeming perhaps aggressive with some of my words, I’m glad I was able to make my point. Take care.

  8. To David Ward:

    As a fellow 99%er and strong advocate of the Occupy movements, allow me to make a friendly criticism. You used far too many words making an irrelevant point. Tim set out to expose the falseness of a photo which has since been confirmed to be fake by its creator. I applaud Tim for his diligence. With your final paragraph you say that Tim’s attempt to debunk has been debunked? Wrong – his attempt has been validated over and over again.

    Most importantly, the assumption that Tim made was a reasonable one, and hardly worth a second thought. Who has the most to gain by producing “evidence” that plays into the persecution complexes and conspiracy theories of the crazier elements of the far left? Those very elements. A detractor or a skeptic is not likely to create evidence that helps to verify the claims of a paranoid belief. So Tim’s not perfect. Surprise, surprise – know anyone who is?

    Tim is not here to give you all the answers, and he does not seem to be a radical or a member of the lunatic fringe. He seems an honest skeptic and, regardless of his politics, ought to be commended for pushing the truth, whatever it may be.

    Thanks, Tim!

    – Josh

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