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The Hoax Photo Archive — Photo Fakery Throughout History
The Gallery of Fake Viral Images
When an image is said to have "gone viral," it means that something about the image is compelling, intriguing, or bizarre, which causes people to want to share it with others. And when this sharing happens on a large scale, the image circulates widely, far beyond the point of its origin.

The phenomenon of images going viral is associated with the internet, because internet technology has made it so easy for individuals to share images with each other. However, it's possible to find examples of the viral image phenomenon that date back to the late 19th century, when photos circulated via picture postcards or in magazines. In the early 20th century, news-wire services became a means for viral images to spread.

Viral images spread because they catch our attention — not because they're accurate representations of reality. In fact, it's very common for viral images to be fake because often hoaxers create dramatic, attention-grabbing scenes by distorting or exaggerating some element within a photo. Or 'real' images are recaptioned to make them tell a more compelling story.

The images in this gallery are presented in reverse-chronological order (newest first).
The Ultimate Houseboat. (2014) The boat is a VARD Offshore Subsea Construction Vessel. In real life it does not carry a house on its helipad. The composite image was created by a Norwegian construction firm as a humorous way to illustrate its campaign urging people to "Realize your dream home in the New Year!" The image subsequently began circulating online, captioned as the "ultimate houseboat." More…
Orphaned Syrian Boy Sleeping Between his Parents’ Graves.. (Jan 2014) The photo, as captioned, tugged at the heartstrings. So it was no surprise that it quickly went viral. But it was soon revealed to be a staged shot taken by a photographer in Saudi Arabia as part of a conceptual art project. The graves were fake, and the boy was the photographer's nephew. More…
Giant Squid in Santa Monica. (2014) This photo accompanied an article that ran on the site lightlybraisedturnip.com in January 2014, claiming that a giant squid (grown to mutant size because of Fukushima radiation) had washed ashore near Santa Monica. The article was intended as satire. Nevertheless, the image soon began to circulate online. The image was a composite of a squid washed ashore in Spain and a beach scene in Chile. More…
Long Exposure of a Tree Struck by Lightning. (2013) Photographer Darius Twin created this image using the technique of 'light painting,' which involves moving a hand-held light source in front of the camera. After he posted it on his Facebook page in October 2013, it soon went viral. However, the Internet recaptioned it with the claim that it was an actual image of lightning striking a tree. In its original context, it was clearly an art photo. More…
Snow-Covered Sphinx. (2013) In early December 2013, it snowed in Egypt for the first time in 112 years. Soon this photo of the Sphinx covered in snow began to circulate online. Problem was, the photo doesn't show the Egyptian Sphinx. It shows a miniature Sphinx located in the Tobu World Square theme park in Japan. This theme park features miniature models of many famous attractions from around the world. More…
Santa’s Identity Revealed. (Dec 2013) This set of images circulated widely accompanied by captions such as "Santa's identity revealed" or "an unexpected plot twist." The images were not fake, but they were taken out of their original context. They came from a Dutch ad campaign to promote awareness of Alzheimer's disease and were accompanied by a third image showing the rabbit fully unwrapped, revealing a message: "Alzheimer's patients are coping with this feeling daily." More…
Jennifer Aniston gets a buzzcut. (2013) Originally posted to the site "Daily Makeover" on April 1, 2013 as an April Fool Day joke, this photoshopped picture of Jennifer Aniston with a buzzcut began circulating widely in Dec. 2013 along with a caption claiming that Aniston had cut her hair to show sympathy for a niece with cancer. A rep for Aniston stated that Aniston had no such niece, and the claim was "nonsense". More…
Paris Hilton Says ‘Stop Being Poor’. (Nov 2013) The original, undoctored version of this photo, taken by photographer Vince Flores at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on April 15, 2005, showed Paris Hilton wearing a t-shirt that said, "Stop Being Desperate." The altered version began circulating in late 2013. The reworded message played on Hilton's reputation for being somewhat shallow and spoiled by her inherited wealth. More…
Cow on hood of car. (Jan 2013) This image achieved internet fame when, on 18 Nov 2013, the Surrey Roads Police department posted it on its twitter account accompanied by the message: "Remember as days get colder animals are attracted to the warmth of cars so check wheel arches or other hiding places." However, the image had been circulating since early 2013. Its creator is unknown. The cow on the hood of the BMW is, of course, a product of digital manipulation. More…
Fairy Pools. (Oct 2013) As this photo circulated online, identified as "The Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland," it attracted comments such as "oh my this is beyond beautiful." There are waterfalls on the Isle of Skye known as the Fairy Pools, but that's not what this photo shows. It shows the Shotover River in New Zealand, where the vegetation is a normal shade of green. The vivid purple color is a digital effect, achieved by means of a color filter. More…
What happens when lightning strikes sand. (2013) When lightning strikes sand, it can fuse the sand into long glassy tubes called fulgurites. However, the structure in this photo, despite the caption which the internet has given it, is not a fulgurite. It is a piece of driftwood with sand piled on top of it. This is a case of 'real picture, fake caption'. More…
Digital Glitch Furniture. (2013) Web postings of this image often claim it shows "an actual piece of carefully carved furniture" created by designer Ferruccio Laviani who used computer-aided machine tools to make it appear as if the cabinet had been deformed by a "digital glitch". Laviani did create a line of "glitch" furniture for a 2013 exhibition. But this photo was a mock-up used to illustrate his concept. It doesn't show one of the finished pieces. More…
Fireworks Over Europe. (2013) This photo is often said to show a satellite's view of the fireworks over Europe at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. It first circulated in Jan 2013 and returned in 2014. Of course, Europe isn't all in the same time zone, so the New Year's Eve fireworks don't all go off at the same moment. Nor do they create such intense illumination. This is actually a color-coded NOAA image showing changes in illumination in Europe from 1993-2003. More…
Angry Koala. (2012) This koala looks quite vicious, but in reality koalas do not have wolf-life jaws. The original photo of a wet koala (with its mouth shut) was taken in Jan 2009 by Flickr user Oz_drdolittle. It was hot so he had sprayed it with water. In 2012, someone digitally added wolf fangs to the koala, and the resulting image quickly went viral. More…
Japanese Moon Melon. (2012) The caption that frequently accompanies this image claims that this colorful fruit is known as 'moon melon' in Japan, where it's grown. Also, it can "switch flavors after you eat it. Everything sour will taste sweet, and everything salty will taste bitter, and it gives water a strong orange-like taste." None of this is true. The fruit in the picture is just regular red watermelon that's been colored blue via Photoshop. More…
A Black Lion. (2012) It's biologically possible for lions to be black, and there have been reports of such creatures over the years. Although many of these reports may have been due to observation in poor light or strong sunlight behind the cat. However, the lion in this photo is not actually black. It's a white lion that was colored black through photo manipulation. The altered photo was posted on deviantart.com in early 2012 and quickly went viral. More…
Romney Family Misspells Their Name. (Feb 2012) As Romney campaigned for the Presidency, this picture started to circulate online, accompanied by the caption: "Romney's family misspell their last name in the greatest Freudian slip in history." However, that's not Romney's family. It's actually the Fisher family, who got up on stage with him during a campaign stop in Elko, Nevada. They wore t-shirts that did correctly spell his name. The misspelling was the result of photo alteration. More…
Angolan Witch Spider. (2011) The Internet claims this spider was spotted on the side of a house in Texas and "it took several gun shots to kill it." In reality, this image is the creation of artist/photographer Paul Santa Maria, who took a photo of a normal-sized wolf spider outside his Florida home and then used Photoshop to expand it to gigantic proportions. More…
Lottery winner finds love of his life after big win. (2009) The photo shows Swedish glamour model Natacha Peyre posing with a fan. But the Internet has recaptioned this image to give it a more amusing story. Of course, this story is false. It's not known who the man in the photo is, but he's definitely not the winner of a $181 million lottery. The photo first surfaced with the false caption in 2009 and has been resurfacing periodically ever since. More…
Viagra Corporate Headquarters. (2009) This image has circulated widely online with a caption claiming the building shown is the "Head Office of Viagra" in Toronto, Canada. The building is real, as is the suggestively shaped topiary. But it's not the head office of Viagra (which is a drug, not a corporation). It's actually the corporate offices of Swagelok Northwest, which manufactures valves and fittings. The building is located in Portland, Oregon. More…
Sarah Palin in Bikini. (September 2008) After John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, provocative fake pictures of the Alaska Governor began to circulate online. More…
“Not What You Want To See”. (Circulating online since early 2008) Two pictures were composited together to create this dramatic scene. More…
Charlton Heston’s Home Gun Collection. (Apr 2008) After Charlton Heston died in April 2008, a series of images began to circulate online, supposedly showing the actor's home gun collection. Heston was a well-known gun enthusiast. But the guns in the photos didn't belong to him. They were actually owned by attorney Bruce Stern, who died in 2007, after which most of his collection was auctioned off. It was one of the largest firearms collections ever to go up for auction. More…
Barack Obama Smoking. (Circulating online since early 2008) Obama admits to being a smoker (trying to quit), but this picture of him smoking was faked. More…
Suicidal Teens Welcome. (Found on the internet, early 2007) The armed forces does not really actively recruit suicidal teenagers. More…
Oscar Mayer Wiener Jet. (2007) This fake image was probably created as a joke by the graphic designers whom Boeing commissioned to create the livery for the 747-400 Largo Cargo Freighter. The plane's unusual shape evidently reminded the designers of a hot dog. It initially appeared online in early 2007, but it gained a new boost of popularity in mid-2009 following the death of Oscar Mayer, the retired chairman of the Oscar Mayer corporation. More…
Hercules, the World’s Biggest Dog. (2007) The massive dog in this photo is not named Hercules. It hasn't been deemed World's Biggest Dog by Guinness World Records. Nor is it an English Mastiff. However, all this incorrect info often circulates with the image. The identity and owner of the dog remains unknown. Its size here is presumed to be a result of image manipulation. However, other images show the same dog massively large. So there's a chance the dog's size is genuine. More…
Tsunami Seen From a High-Rise. (Appeared online in early January 2005) This photo supposedly showed a scene from the devastating Asian tsunami of December 2004, but the city in the picture is Antofagasta, Chile. More…
Modern-Day Diplocaulus. (Circulating online since late 2004) The mysterious creature in the bucket was actually a clay model, not a surviving prehistoric Diplocaulus. More…
Home Computer of the Future. (First posted online September 11, 2004) Popular Science magazine did not publish this image in 1954, predicting that it was what a home computer would look like fifty years in the future. More…
Fetal Footprint. (Circulating online since mid-2004) The abdominal wall is too muscular and thick to actually allow a footprint to be seen with this clarity. More…
Giant Human Skeleton. (Circulating online since early 2004) Despite what this photo appears to show, archaeologists did not unearth a giant human skeleton in Saudi Arabia. More…
Hanoi John. (Circulating online since Feb 2004) Not only had Fonda not shared the stage with Kerry, she hadn’t even attended the rally shown here. More…
The Great Blackout of 2003. (Found online in late August 2003) This fake photo circulated widely in the days following the Great Blackout of 2003. More…
Manitoba Home Security. (Found online in 2003) A digital composite makes it appear that polar bears are relaxing outside someone's house. More…
Louis Vuitton Designer SARS Mask. (April 2003) The fashion designer never actually included a SARS mask in any of its collections. More…
Shuttle Columbia Explosion Photos. (2003) When the space shuttle Columbia exploded upon re-entry on February 1, 2003, no cameras recorded the event. But online, a dramatic series of images of a space shuttle exploding began to circulate. They were said to have been taken "from an Israeli satellite in space." The pictures were actually screenshots from the opening scene of the movie Armageddon (1998), in which the space shuttle Atlantis is struck by meteorite fragments. More…
Leftist Patriot. (Circulating online since 2002. ) Senator Daschle's hand was digitally flipped to make it appear he was repeating the Pledge of Allegiance incorrectly. More…
Bush Reads Book Upside-Down. (Found online, September 2002.) In the original version of this photo, President Bush's book was not upside-down. More…
Tourist Guy. (Circulating online since September 2001.) Created by a Hungarian man as a bit of dark humor to share with his friends, this photo became one of the most widely viewed images online in the weeks after 9/11. More…
Helicopter Shark. (Circulating online since Aug 2001) Despite what this photo shows, a Great White shark has never attacked a helicopter in San Francisco Bay. More…
The Tip of the Iceberg. (2001) Photographer Ralph Clevenger created this image in 1999 by compositing together several different photos. He intended it as an art photo and never presented it otherwise. But around 2001, it began to circulate online with a false caption claiming it was a shot taken by a "Rig Manager for Global Marine Drilling in St. Johns, Newfoundland" and that "They actually have to divert the path of these things away from the rig by towing them with ships!" More…
Snowball the Monster Cat. (Circulating online since early 2000) Cordell Hauglie never anticipated that this picture of him holding a digitally enlarged version of his family cat would become one of the most popular images on the internet. More…
Lung-Powered Flying Machine. (April 1, 1934) The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung ran this photo in its 1934 April Fool's Day edition to illustrate a spoof story about a flying machine powered by the breath from a man's lungs. International News Photo then distributed the photo to its American subscribers, without identifying it as a fake. As a consequence, it appeared as factual news in many American papers, including the New York Times. More…
Baby Adolf. (Late 1933) In 1933, a picture supposedly showing Adolf Hitler as a baby began circulating throughout England and America. The child in the picture looked positively menacing. However, the child wasn't really the infant führer. In 1938 a Mrs. Harriet Downs of Ohio happened to see the picture in a magazine and immediately recognized it as her son. Someone had darkened the shadows around the child's face to give him a more sinister look. More…
Mammoth Potato of Loveland. (1894) Colorado farmer Joseph Swan created this amusing photo (with help from a local photographer) as a tongue-in-cheek ad to show off his potato-growing skills. But copies of the photo began to circulate, and soon it was being reprinted in magazines as a supposedly real photo, causing Swan to receive hundreds of letters from people seeking seeds from his "mammoth potato" so they could grow their own. This is a very early example of a "viral" fake photo. More…
The Martyr Lincoln. (late 1860s) Following the assassination of Lincoln, the Army didn't allow any pictures to be taken of him in his casket. Therefore, con artists stepped in to fill the demand. This image was one of many that circulated purporting to show the dead President, but it's fake. It shows a man lying down, probably only pretending to be dead. But that man is not Lincoln. More…

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.