Except that’s not at all what the video showed. As the woman featured in the video, InStyle Editor in Chief Laura Brown, has repeatedly tried to clarify, it was taken at an animal sanctuary last month. There were no fires there. And Brown didn’t save the kangaroo’s life.
To her frustration, the person who lifted the clip (which was recorded by Tahnee Passmore-Barns of the Kangaroo Sanctuary) didn’t just misrepresent it. The person, @roastedrants, also tried to profit from it, linking to websites hawking phone cases and jewelry.
“There’s worse things than a meme being shared of showing affection to an animal — I’m not going to criticize that — but it’s the ignorant and mercenary way things are sold off the back of it that offends me,” Brown wrote in a message to The Washington Post. “And from the look of it, others too.”
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The video of me hugging my mate Abi here has gone viral, which is sweet for the sentiment (even though I did not “rescue” her and there are no fires at @thekangaroosanctuary where we were). BUT I want to be sure that one, @thekangaroosanctuary is credited and two, those posting, don’t just use for clickbait, please pair with donation information for organizations like @wireswildliferescue, @wildlifevictoria, @wildtofree etc who are helping animals affected by fires. Least you could do, eh? #nohuglikearoohug
Welcome to disasters in the digital age.
Every time a major incident rocks the news, hoaxers try to make stolen, misleading or all-out fake images go viral. They often succeed, as social media users amplify evocative but dubious content in the stampede for information. In fact, the same fake picture of a shark swimming on a street has gone viral during at least four hurricanes: Florence, Harvey, Matthew and Sandy. It will inevitably go viral in the next one.
“Unfortunately, this is not a picture from a movie or an upcoming music video clip, this is the actual reality in Australia,” said the caption of an Instagram post showing a gas mask-wearing girl standing in front of a fire with a koala against her chest.
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Unfortunately, this is not a picture from a movie or an upcoming music video clip, this is the actual reality in Australia 🇦🇺 Humans and animals needs to be rescued and water is missing. 8000 Koalas already died since the beginning of the bushfire. If you wanna help, go to @iwilltakeyouthere last post to donate and understand the actual situation. Photo via @caitlynlwalker • Digital artist @thuie JOIN THE TRAVEL COMMUNITY: 🌎 @travel_is_awesomeee 🌎 🌎 @travel_is_awesomeee 🌎 🌎 @travel_is_awesomeee 🌎 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • #prayforaustralia #firefighter #australianfirefighters #australianbushfires #nswbushfires #bushfire #bushfiresaustralia #bushfires #bushfireseason #saveaustralia #koala #koalas #koalasofinstagram #savethekoalas #awesometravel #travelisawesome
True, it wasn’t from “a movie or an upcoming music video clip”: It was from the Instagram account of an Australia-based photographer and artist whose work involves Photoshopping images of her children into fanciful scenes. A scroll through her posts shows a baby exploring the surface of the moon and a girl riding a bear through a desert. The photographer, Thu Pham-Moore, also explains her editing process in a series of Instagram stories.
After learning about the spread of the girl and koala image she’d created, she added a disclaimer to her original post.
“This post has now gone viral please make sure that you mention it is a photoshop edit (this is what my account is known for),” she wrote.
In another widely shared image, a strange-looking tiger seems to be on fire. “Huge wildfire in Australia has resulted in deaths of more than 480 million animals,” the Facebook account Mr. Fluffy PH wrote above the photo shared to its more than 900,000 followers.
“Pretty sure these are taxidermy,” noted one user. But many others reacted with horror, calling the image “really sad” or “heartbreaking.”
PolitiFact, a nonprofit that partners with Facebook to verify content, swooped in to declare the post “Mostly False.” The tigers were indeed taxidermy, a fact-checker wrote, noting that the picture depicts “a bonfire of confiscated taxidermy animals in Jakarta, Indonesia.” Facebook subsequently added a notice to the original item, warning that it contained “Partly False Information.”
Then there’s the kangaroo hug. The video was first uploaded to Instagram on Jan. 1, shared by both the Kangaroo Sanctuary and Brown. The Australia-born fashion editor and her fiance visited the Alice Springs facility just before the new year; the video was filmed by Passmore-Barns, the sanctuary’s general manager, Dec. 30.
The kangaroo, named Abi, was rescued — 12 years ago. She was discovered in her mother’s pouch after her mother was hit by a car, Passmore-Barns wrote in an email to The Post.
“Abi has never seen a fire in her life,” she wrote.
In her initial post sharing the video, Brown called for people to donate to the Kangaroo Sanctuary, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Adelaide Koala Rescue, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and groups combating climate change.
“It’s a battle down here in our beautiful country,” she wrote.
After finding out the video had been hijacked, she returned to Instagram to note that she wasn’t the one who saved Abi and to ask those sharing it to give credit to the Kangaroo Sanctuary. “Don’t just use it for clickbait,” she added, “please pair with donation information.”
She also made a direct appeal to the person who mischaracterized and spread it on Twitter.
“Could you correct this and stop selling things off it please. Post a link to wildlife orgs like @WIRES_NSW instead,” Brown wrote. “Thanks.”
In a tweet buried in the replies, @roastedrants, who did not respond to a request for comment, called for people to follow the group she recommended and to “help wildlings.”
Brown told The Post it wasn’t enough, and that the person shouldn’t have tried “to sell useless things from inaccurate content in the first place.” People should be more thoughtful than that, she said.
“We’re in a situation globally where that might be helpful,” she added.