- Graphic photo of a little girl with bite wounds to her face was presented online as proof that attack dogs were unleashed on Native American and other protesters at an oil pipeline construction site in North Dakota.
- This photo was then passed on social media, including online comments at “news” sites, as proof of the vicious attacks by dogs.
- The photo, however, first appeared in a June 26, 2012 NY Daily News report about a dog attack that occurred in Texas. This photo has nothing to do with the events in North Dakota.
- This is a classic example of social media propaganda used to incite riots based on false information. Social media almost instantly descends into mob mentality, lynching everyone in their path, including the innocent.
Read on to discover the fascinating history behind this false social media meme and how this became an established “fact”, in spite of it being an outright lie.
The photo appeared on a web page of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker organization. LA Catholic Worker is a non-profit group of Catholics that provide assistance to the needy. Their organization is presumably a reliable source of information.
They published online a story about protests at the construction site in North Dakota – note the photo of the girl near the bottom:
This story, on the LA Catholic Worker page, became the basis for claims that dogs attacked children and was then linked to, on social media, as “proof” of dog attacks on children:
Note the comment that links to the LA Catholic Worker web site with photographic proof(!) that these attacks occurred; if you disagree, you are a troll and are untrustworthy. After all, the photo came from the LA Catholic Workers – it must be correct.
A quick search online revealed the photo of the little girl is from a June 26, 2012 news report of a dog attack in Texas.
Eventually, the LA Catholic Workers removed the photo and by the next day, they also published a strongly worded correction to the original story:
(Disclaimer: LA Catholic Workers was notified or discovered the error on their own, literally as I was in process of contacting them. Initially they removed the photo without comment but in response to my note about the importance of a correction, due to links on social media using their original photo usage as proof a girl was attacked, they added the strongly worded correction above. As they note, they were deceived, which is what I suspected had happened. A hat tip to the LA Catholic Workers for promptly and vociferously correcting the story.)
Some online posts said dogs were “unleashed” to attack the protesters. However, an online search through both Google and Bing reveals no photos showing unleashed dogs, only dogs on leash. Yes, they are displaying menacing behavior and appear to have been used to threaten protesters, but it is odd that amid claims of unleashed dogs there are only photos of leashed dogs. Townhall.com, a political news site, also referenced “unleashed” dogs saying this is shown in their embedded video; however, no unleashed dogs appear in their video provided by the protesters. Democracy Now! also published a video which shows only leashed security dogs. Another video that may be from a protester on scene is titled “Hired DAPL Security Officers Violently Attack Native Americans with Dogs and Pepper Spray” shows only leashed dogs and many scenes of protesters being treated for pepper spray. There are many more videos that show only leashed dogs (I will update this if someone can find authenticated evidence that dogs were “unleashed” – it is possible this took place).
However, the false use of a 2012 photo, from a legitimate source, reinforced the propaganda message that “unleashed” dogs were attacking protesters.
Worse, you will now note that a search online for “Standing Rock Sioux Dog Attack” shows the false photo from 2012. The propaganda was so effective that it has established as “fact” that a little girl was attacked by unleashed dogs at protests against pipeline construction in North Dakota.
A web site called AnoNews went so far as to publish alleged photos of the dog handlers, their names, addresses and phone numbers, even though, as comments to the AnoNews story pointed out, they appeared to have targeted the wrong individuals. AnoNews comments established an online lynch mob that may have resulted in threats of violence against potentially innocent people. These names, photos and contact information were widely distributed on social media.
NOTE: THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT WHETHER THE PIPELINE IS PROPER OR WRONG. THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THE PROTESTERS BEING PROPER OR WRONG. THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT WHETHER USING SECURITY DOGS IS RIGHT OR WRONG. THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT WHETHER THE LAND INVOLVED IS SACRED OR HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT OR NOT. THIS POST TAKES NO STAND OR OPINION ON THE CORRECTNESS OR NOT OF THE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, THE PRIVATE LANDOWNERS OR THE PROTESTERS OR THE POLICE AND SECURITY FORCES. THIS POST IS SOLELY ABOUT THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA TO SPREAD PROPAGANDA REGARDING THIS ISSUE AND HOW FALSE INFORMATION WAS USED AS PART OF THE PROPAGANDA MESSAGING.
Why do I have put this big disclaimer here? Because of logical fallacies. If A is true, then many will assume that B is true, even though there is no link between A and B. If I demonstrate that the photo of the little girl bitten by a dog has nothing to do with the protests, then many will conclude that I am a “troll” or “a shill” for the oil industry or pipeline construction firm. This, however, is a logical fallacy that occurs frequently on social media.
For example, I recently read an economist’s review about Hillary Clinton’s “Economic Plan”. The economist was ripped in comments by people who asserted that if he believed X about Clinton’s plan, then he obviously believed Y about Trump’s economic plan, which is a logical fallacy. The economist replied that he had not yet evaluated Trump’s plans and had not yet provided a perspective; the lack of an opinion does not mean an individual has an obvious or opposite opinion! Similarly, correcting a factually incorrect item does not mean that the person making the correction holds a view opposite to that created by the “false fact”. This logical fallacy – condemning those who question anything – occurs with many emotionally charged subjects that appear on social media.
Sadly, this logically incorrect form of thinking is widespread: If someone posts an item on social media and you do not (immediately!) Like it or Share it or Comment on it, you therefore obviously disagree with the post! That is, of course, logically incorrect but that is how social media mob mentality works.
This blog post illustrates the frightening danger of social media propaganda, social media mob mentality and lynch mobs, and the absurdity of Facebook censoring a factually correct, Pulitizer Price winning, historically important photograph – while simultaneously allowing their platform to be used for spreading provably false information and inciting riots and lynch mobs.