I first posted this photo in August, 2015, but since then it, along with the erroneous caption, is once again making the rounds of “history” Twitter and Instagram accounts, I felt a bit of updating was in order. You can click to the original post to read about all that is wrong with the caption.
I’m using the same photo as an example because of an experience I had on Twitter last week. As the photo appeared in my feed yet again, I’d had enough, and posted to the effect that this was #fakehistory which should not be retweeted, and pointed out the errors. Two people, both historians I respect, replied that it was all in the spirit of fun, and then one turned the tables to tell me I should not use the term suffragette, that the correct term is suffragist. That hand-slapping came despite the fact I was quoting the original.
In a time when anything one does not agree becomes “fake news,” people who care about the truth need to be aware that not all that is fake is news. Much of it is decades and centuries in the past. Whereas two and a half years ago I was hesitant to correct fake history for fear of ruffling feathers, I’m afraid we have come to the place in time where making such corrections is necessary in order to keep false narratives from overtaking the truth.
But how does one read a photograph? There was a great article on Quartz last week that gave some valuable hints for looking at photographs critically. You might want to read the full article, but the author gave four main points. Here I’ve applied each to the photo above.
- Consider the source – In this case the source was Twitter. Anything posted to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, or any number of other social sites, should be viewed with a bit of skepticism.
- Pay attention to aesthetics – If the point of the photo was to show women annoying men, then why was the photo taken at such an angle that no men can be seen?
- Ask “What is the narrative of the photo”? – The narrative can come from a caption. Does the content of the photo match that of the caption? Again, where are the annoyed men? Why are there groups of women spectators who are wearing bathing suits but are not eating? And why is there food all over the faces of some of the eaters?
- Cross-check information – The facts presented in the caption are easily checked. If the photo was made in the US, then women already had the right to vote. If it came from the UK, all women did not get the right to vote until 1928, after a fight that had been going on for over seventy years. At any rate, women in 1921 would not have been “early suffragettes.” You can also cross-check a photo by right-clicking on it, and then clicking “Search Google for image.” The first item in the list of links goes to Snopes.com, a fact-checking site.
On Sunday I posted something that is rarely seen here at The Vintage Traveler- a quotation. The internet is full of quotes of all kinds, meant to uplift or to tear down, to justify or to destroy. One thing is for sure, an internet “quote” often has nothing to do with the person who supposedly said or wrote it it. The best kind of quote is one that makes us think, or that removes us a bit from our comfort zone.
But like the quote I chose to use this week, most of us use them to back up what we already believe. Having a president’s opinion, even one from 125 years ago that most people can’t tell you a single fact about, might possibly carry more weight than ordinary Lizzie. Or in the case of modern presidents, it might carry no weight at all, depending on which part of the political spectrum one falls.
What was incredibly easy about posting the President Harrison quote was how simple the internet made it to verify its authenticity. There are now quote-checking websites that give detailed information about quotes and who did – and did not – say them. Which makes me wonder why, given that it is so easy, that instead of double-checking their facts, the quote-spreaders continue to put words into the mouths of historical figures.
All this boils down to one thing: In order to know the truth, one must look for it. One of the skills I tried to teach my fifth graders was how to read critically, considering the source and the words carefully. I can tell you that even a fifth grader can determine the reliability of a written passage when given the time and skills necessary for careful reading.