Here, as best we can piece together, is how the fakery started.
The image was originally a still frame from a CNN video that aired this week. Ironically, the network had been attempting to fact-check President Trump's recent claim that he had “better [approval] numbers than Obama at this point, by far.”
So CNN's John King pulled up a graphic based on Gallup's presidential approval polls and various economic measures. While Trump outperformed his predecessor in terms of the deficit, employment rates and gross domestic product (Barack Obama became president during a deep recession, King noted), he clearly lagged behind Obama on the top line:
Trump had a 40 percent approval rating, compared with Obama's 45 percent at the same point in his presidency.
King was hardly the first reporter to disprove one of Trump's polling boasts, but the CNN segment annoyed many of the president's hardcore supporters. “Trump is near 50% approval. CNN is absolute Fake news,” reads a typical complaint on Reddit's far-right “The_Donald” board.
Something like a consensus formed on that forum — Trump's real approval rating ought to be 50 percent. No one cited any data. Maybe they were recalling outlier polls that have put Trump's numbers higher, like several from Rasmussen Reports, which the president tends to cherry pick and promote. Maybe they were following an axiom that Trump once put forward: “Whatever Trump's poll number is, add nine.”
In any case, someone soon pasted a “50%” where CNN's “40%” had been, and the crudely doctored freeze frame began to spread across the Trump Internet.
“Trumps doing big things people! No one can take him down!” wrote an Instagram user who shared the image several hours before it ended up on Trump Jr.'s page, in front of his 1.2 million followers.
“Amazing,” Trump Jr. wrote. “I guess there is a magic wand to make things happen and @realdonaldtrump seems to have it. #MAGA #amreicafirst.”
The initial surge of comments that followed Trump Jr.'s post were overwhelmingly positive — Trump fans thrilled at the president's inflated approval rate.
But within minutes, people began to inform Trump Jr. that something was wrong.
“Yes, that 'magic wand' is Photoshop's Magic Wand tool,” chrisconradie1 wrote to Trump Jr., referring to the software of choice for fake photo makers. Re-creation below:
Quite a few people noticed that this wasn't even a quality hoax.
The "50%” was misaligned with the text on the original CNN graphic, and its background was a different shade of red. Also, by zooming in one could see that the original "40%” was still visible underneath the fake number.
It's still unclear how Trump Jr. found the fake image, or why he decided to share it, or left it up for a day and a half. Neither he nor a representative responded to questions from The Washington Post sent Friday morning — but by midafternoon, the bogus image had disappeared from his Instagram account.
The article has been updated since Trump Jr. removed the image.