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.