As criticism rolled in against far-right protesters demanding their “freedom” to potentially help spread COVID-19, some social media users were apparently taken in by digital manipulation.
Readers mocking the “grassroots” protests, which have actually been promoted and abetted on social media by outside interest groups, shared a photograph of a woman brandishing a sign with a clumsy attempt to blame former United States President Barack Obama for the disease by “adding” up the letters in his name to equal 19.
The photo spread enough that it was reposted by Kim Gordon of the seminal rock group Sonic Youth:
Umm actually it’s 18 pic.twitter.com/ZfMrgQiMlk
— Kim Gordon (@KimletGordon) April 26, 2020
However, as another user pointed out in response to Gordon’s post, the image was altered:
This image is a photoshopped version of a picture from the Huntington Beach protests. pic.twitter.com/sPsRmjlQJA
— 𝕊𝕥𝕖𝕧𝕖 𝕄𝕚𝕕𝕕𝕝𝕖𝕓𝕣𝕠𝕠𝕜 (@stmdc) April 26, 2020
The photograph — showing that the sign actually said “give me liberty or give me death” — was taken by Jeff Gritchen and originally published on April 17 2020 in the Orange County Register as part of the newspaper’s coverage of an anti-government rally in Huntington Beach, California. The woman brandishing the message was identified as Sarah Mason.
The sign, in fact, is identical to one seen in another photograph that has spread since the initial spate of protests showing a woman holding it while standing in front of an ice cream shop:
— Abdul El-Sayed (@AbdulElSayed) April 18, 2020
Police said after the Huntington Beach protests that they did not carry out any arrests at the Huntington Beach event. Several signs seen at the demonstrations have attracted attention, whether for a lack of spelling ability or for displaying callous or anti-Semitic messages regarding people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
We contacted the Register seeking comment on the spread of Gritchen’s photo, but have not heard back.