The outrageous photo of a suffering child

Have you seen this photo?

What an outrage. Trump’s Border Patrol is separating families at the border and putting children in cages.

I’ve seen this photo all over my Facebook feed, on posts filled with rage.

But there’s a problem.

This photo is not what people think it is.

According to, this photo is actually a photo taken on June 10, 2018, during a protest staged in front of Dallas City Hall to call attention the Trump administration policy of separating families at the border. The child is not part of a family that crossed the border. He is apparently crying because he can see his mother but can’t figure out how to get to her.

Here’s another photo from the same event with the same child.

There are plenty of actual disturbing photos of minors being held at the border. Like these:

On June 18, 2014, two detainees sleep in a cell at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. Photo by Ross D. Franklin—AP published on
US Customs and Border Protection via NBC 4 Los Angeles

Donald Trump had also been tweeting about fake photos, although that was before these surfaced.

A few questions about these photos

I saw the top photo several times on Facebook and Twitter before I thought to check it. The fact that I had breezed by it and just accepted it — that I was fooled — bothered me.

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself regarding these photos. (I would be delighted to read your answers to these questions in the comments, if you are willing to be honest about them.)

  • If you saw the first photo, did you think it was an actual photo from the border?
  • Do you believe Snopes, or do you still think it is a photo from the border?
  • If you were fooled, does that bother you?
  • If you or a friend reposted this photo with the implication that it was at at the border, what should you (or they) do? What did you actually do?
  • With the repeated lies from the Trump administration and the shifting explanations from its cabinet members regarding this policy, does that mean that lies and misattributions from its opponents are justifiable?
  • If you, like nearly everyone I hear from, including Republican Members of Congress, think that policy of separating parents from children in this situation is outrageous and wrong, does that mean it’s okay to post misattributed photos? Does the greater harm excuse the smaller mistake, or is truth more important than emotion?
  • What is your reaction to border hawks who cite the false photo as evidence that liberal narratives cannot be trusted?

There are questions about border security and policy. They are important to resolve.

There are questions about humanity and appropriate behavior for governments. This is an emotional issue, and it should be.

And there are questions about truth.

My opinion is this: Emotion is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to children. But in the absence of truth, there is no way to accurately decide what to do. If you aren’t dedicated to truth as the basis for any political discussion, then it is impossible for us to work towards anything.

Let’s try to save the children. But let’s try to save the truth as well.

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  1. Yes, I made that photo my profile photo even though I knew I should check it first and do plan to change it. Accuracy does matter even though the one I change it to will be very similar. Especially now, with our country in thrall to the master of all gaslighters, we need to promote and defend accuracy and truth. I better go change that photo now!

  2. Bravo! Falsifying emotional content backfires and weakens the perpetrators’ claims. Based on new evidence I recently had to send an apology to many people for the unconfirmed and possibly erroneous statements I had made regarding Woody Allen’s treatment of minors. Yes, I thought this was a real photo. No, it hadn’t occurred to me to check. Your blog again reminds me how important it is to not accept things at face value from either side of an important issue. As a society inundated with unmanageable quantities of (mis)information, we have to figure out how to do a better job of monitoring, detecting and disseminating the facts. As in truth.

  3. Well said. I always call out fake stuff, from the left and right, when I see it and add a Snopes link. Unfortunately, the extreme right always reply that Snopes is “fake news.” Its a scary time to be an American.

  4. “With the repeated lies from the Trump administration and the shifting explanations from its cabinet members regarding this policy”

    Josh, what specific lies are you referring to in this statement?

    Thanks for the honest commentary.


    1. Trump said the separations were happening because of a law passed by Democrats. They are happening because of the prosecute-everyone zero-tolerance policy that the Trump Administration implemented.

      The Trump administration said it was separating families just as Obama did. He didn’t.

      Jeff Sessions said the new policy was in place to deter illegal immigration. Kirstjen Nielsen said it wasn’t.

      Nielsen said that illegal border crossers were by definition criminals. Crossing the border is a misdemeanor. If they are legitimately seeking asylum they are not criminals.

      This is a complex issue and the statements on the Democratic side oversimplify things as well. But it’s very clear that a change in policy is the immediate cause of this tragedy, and Trump’s people have not taken responsibility for that change in policy, they are blaming others.

      You can read more at politifact.

  5. I’ve deleted several comments here, consistent with my policy that the comment section on this blog is not a space for debate on politics, but rather on communication, truth, or falsehood.

  6. When I first heard about this story, my reaction was that the photos weren’t just misleading, but that the entire story was a lie. I simply didn’t think it could possibly be true.

    I was never a big fan of The Onion. But it was only a few years ago when you could at least read an article and know whether it was real or fake, just based on the substance. It is increasingly difficult to do so. And so it is more important now than it was before that we double check everything we read, no matter how outrageous it sounds.

  7. Time issued a correction to information about their cover photo. The child in the Photo appeared separated but was not.