Misleading maps, fake photos of Australia’s bushfires go viral online

Photos and maps have been shared by many celebrities too get people's attention but not all used by them are accurate.

Social media has been flooded with photos and videos as Australia continues to battle devastating bushfires. However, not all of them are real. While some of them may have been shared with the right intention, many photos that claim to show maps of the regions affected are misleading, or fake.

One such image claims to show the fires in Australia is going viral and even caught the attention of celebrities like Rihanna. The photo, which is alleged to be a photograph released by NASA, is not accurate.

The picture is actually an artist's visual interpretation of the fires. Artist Anthony Hearsey decided to visualise one month worth of data collected by NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System.

"This is a 3D visualisation of the fires in Australia. NOT A PHOTO. Think of this as prettier looking graph," he clarified as the photo went viral.

"The scale is a little exaggerated due to the render's glow, but it is generally true to the info from the Nasa website. Also note that not all the areas are still burning, and this is a compilation," Hearsey wrote on Instagram.

Instagram has since placed a warning on the image that states the photo contains false information, after it was reported several times.


Some other images being shared online are those of maps showing fire icons across the country that are said to be "all the fires burning in Australia".

However, as many experts pointed out, maps that claim to show the size of the affected area by "overlaying" Australia on to other continents like North America and Europe are not completely accurate, given how the curved earth is distorted when flat map projections are made.

Some images of the maps showed more active fires than those on the Australian government website MyFireWatch, which shows all the fires burning across the country. They also do not reflect the actual size of the fire and how dangerous they are.

To put things in perspective, the maps put out by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service is very different. In the map, a red flame icon indicates there is a fire emergency warning, and requires a person to take immediate action in order to survive. The blue icon on a map indicates a fire is present but does not pose an immediate danger.

Other maps wrongly identified regions affected by the fires. One such map wrongly showed the blazes being concentrated on the west coast of Australia, instead of the south coast, where is where most fires have been reported this season.

Various photoshopped images and old photos of bushfires have also flooded social media.

Dr Julie Posetti, global director of research for the International Centre for Journalists, told Australian news website SBS News that those affected by the fires, and who are relying on online information, should stick to accurate, trustworthy sources. However, Dr Posetti said it was important not to label art as "fake".

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has also warned about a number of appeals for funds that may be scams.

"Scammers are cold-calling, direct messaging and creating fake websites and pages on social media to raise funds," an ACCC statement said.