Note to self: Panda earthquake image not a fake, exactly

Dear Bill: You know that picture of the terrified giant panda clinging to a policeman's leg after the Japan earthquake? The one that, in the terrible early hours of this awful disaster, rocketed all over the Internet, landed on your screen and induced all sorts of anthropomorphic empathy on your part? It's not a fake, exactly; the image is real, but it's five years old, and was taken at a panda research center, and not in Japan but in China, and the guy isn't a policeman, he's a keeper, and it was feeding time, and the panda wasn't terrified but hungry. As you're contemplating the still-unfolding disaster, reserve a little brainpower to ponder on who puts this sort of misinformation out there at a time like this, and why. And try not to let it make you feel worse about this moment in history than you already do.


  1. I don’t think it’s as sinister, or ignorant, as implied… I would guess that someone – perhaps a well-meaning grandmotherly type – remembered the image and thought it’d provide some sort of comfort, the kind of comfort that only chain emails can provide (*cough*). They may or may not know the difference between China and Japan, but there *are* pandas at the main zoo in Tokyo…

    I personally never saw the image until this boingboing post, but these kinds of things usually have innocent beginnings.

    1. What are “these kinds of things,” exactly?

      Because I’m really having a hard time with that, and with the assumption that, whatever they are, they “usually have innocent beginnings.”

      I didn’t get any of this chaincrud this go round, happily, but to be honest I’m not at all sure it has “innocent beginnings.”

      Innocent, uninformed middles of forwarding mindlessly, sure.

    2. You know, I’ve watched you spread your opinion around like fact for a few days. You mean well, and are not always right. I’m no better.

      These things, however, get started by people who do not mean well. They mean something, not necessarily something bad, but their unthinking behavior is objectively bad, and basically indistinguishable from fear mongering. This stuff (with the panda, and the radioactivity maps, etc) is communication only of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

      So keep informed, keep vigilant, and keep trying.

  2. Now, I’m not condoning misinformation at all, especially not timely misinformation like this, but I do want to play devil’s advocate, for the sake of discussion.

    I’m thinking this might provoke some empathetic reactions in people who might be thinking about donating money to the disaster relief effort in Japan. If this picture puts them over the edge, wouldn’t that be a good thing? for Japan and, say, the Red Cross?

  3. Sorry to be so cynical but I fear the Fukushima Fifty scenario may be somewhat of a Hollywood drama myth in the making.

    First of all the fifty are drawn from a larger pool of people who are being rotated in and out.

    I suspect these individual’s options are somewhat limited at this point. Going to the house is probably not a realistic option even if you assume there is a house and a way of going.

    I don’t want to take anything away from these people who may well be sacrificing their lives in order to save others.

    The problem is that when something smells Hollywood it is likely a managed image which serves to distract our attention away from something more important.

    Someone’s PR department is also working overtime.

  4. Agreed, the sociopathy on display with all the misinformation is quite striking. It’s one thing to ask a difficult or challenging question, it’s quite another to knowingly and intentionally spread FUD.

    And all the people spamming about where to get Iodine/etc are just disgusting profiteering tools.

  5. Motivation is irrelevant. People spread bullshit because it makes them feel empowered. There is no greater reason, no deeper motivation. They just want to feel like they’re making an impression on others.

    If something seems particularly extraordinary, question it.

  6. penguinchris wrote, “I don’t think…”, “I would guess…”, and “They may or may not know…”, all of which distinctly belie your accusation that “you spread your opinion around like fact.”

    You, on the other hand, write, “These things, however, get started by people who do not mean well”, without qualification or justification? How could you possibly know that this is true in all cases?

  7. For years we’ve been watching the Japanese landscape self destruct, over and over, in one kind of monster movie or another. And just as with that 2012 disaster porn awfulness, it numbs the senses.

    Which might be convenient if one were trying to distract attention from the middle east right now. Or Wisconsin.

    I find myself trying to do the civilian equivalent of fighting a war in three theaters. Having all this information at my fingertips is a responsibility- I have to bear witness to everything that I choose to see.

  8. Anybody consider that maybe it’s people trying to drum up sales of iodine replacement pills and other “therapies” who are behind this?

  9. Oops, I should have specified that I was replying to the fake radiation warning, not the panda.

  10. One thing I wonder is how much of the nuclear fear in Japan is hype intentionally spread by BP and other Big Oil corporations. Of course keeping the focus on Japan makes it easier to get away with setting up more offshore drilling platforms.

  11. Here’s another story about a viral phenomenon that turned out to be not quite what it seemed — a video fly-by of Saturn supposedly stitched together from real imagery. Looked cool, but was it “real”? Depends on what you mean by real…

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