Last night, if you haven’t been bombarded by it enough already (lucky you), was MTVs Video Music Awards show. Also known as that show Colbert has a beef with now.

I didn’t see it, but this morning I was forced to catch up for work. If you’d told me a couple of year ago the best part of the show would be a white rapper and that guy from “*Nsync, I’d have laughed, but there ya go.

Last night while the show was on; Reddit, Twitter and various “news” outlets started circulating the below image pro-porting it to be reaction of Smith and family to Miley Cyrus’ on stage twerk work.

Only one on thing, it’s isn’t true. Just a minor detail, right?

Now I expect these kinds of things to sometimes happen on Twitter, Facebook and sites like Reddit. Their social nature makes them easy to spread about rumors and half-truths for better or worse. For every time social media is the first to tell the world that Obama got Osama or that the New York Times website is down, it’s also wrong plenty of times and sometimes just unethical: Wrongfully attributed Morgan Freeman quotes, death rumors that come out of nowhere and #SlainGirl all prove that while social media is a valuable tool, it isn’t a vetted source to be taken at its word.

Social media is like Bobby Moynihan’s drunk uncle. A whole lot of leads and half truth, but you need to wade through it and confirm what he’s saying.

It’s kind of spectacular just now many outlets got it completely wrong: Fox News, BuzzFeed, The Mirror, CBS, Spin Magazine, US Magazine, Business Insider, Yahoo! News… and you get the picture.

Quite an epic fail, thank goodness it wasn’t actual news, but still. I know folks wanted it to be real and thought it was hilarious, but this reminds us once again– be a journalist, don’t just be an aggregate.

Hopefully we all got into this for more than clicks for our boss (if you did, dude, you can make more money doing that by ripping off fortune 500 companies as a “guru!” or being a twitter blowhard writing books from your pad in California.)

But the really truly sad part of all this is just how easily it could have been avoided. You didn’t have to call MTV, or bring in a image forensics expert, or reach out to the Smith camp for comment, or comb though footage of the night to verify it, no it’s much much MUCH simpler then that.

Just look at the actual picture. Notice anything in the corner there?

That in the bottom right corner (the part I circled) says “Watch the VMAs live on MTV now” and under it is a live shot of the show. That’s not Miley, it’s Lady Gaga. It was really that simple. Just look at the picture.


Well, maybe I’m being too harsh, there might be a silver lining in all this. Everyone who just posted it without checking pretty much told us they aren’t journalist.

So the headline should have been “Will Smith and family react to Lady Gaga’s odd VMA opening” your SEO minded social media experts might say, right? Nope.

They actually weren’t reacting to anything at all.

And that’s why news photographers and editors aren’t aren’t photographers, we’re photojournalist; because we have the experience and ethical basis to know that “hey, maybe that’s an in between frame and not accurate to the story, better check this out.”

(Warning, incoming rant!)

Here’s the thing. You can’t just go with what fits neatly with your preconceived notions of what a story should be, you have to check and report the facts. Photos are there to inform and advance the narrative, not to illustarte an article and be pretty. Just becuse you though Cyrus was awful and had never heard of twerking before and wanted to blast her, doesn’t mean you can just wedge in a picture that seems to back you up.