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False: This photo of Joe Biden appearing to sniff Kamala Harris’s hair is digitally manipulated


(Editor's note: this article is first published in August by Annie Lab, a fact-checking project by Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong and Asian Network of News and Information Educators (ANNIE), and co-written by Lucy Zhang and Natsuki Arita)

An image depicting U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden inappropriately hugging his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, is circulating on social media in Chinese.

For example, a Facebook page shared this image with the caption: “New arrival. Biden’s old habits die hard.” The post garnered at least 830 reactions and 250 shares.

On Twitter, the same image with the same caption amassed 1,900 likes and 630 retweets. User comments indicate many people believe this image is a genuine news photo.

But it is a digitally manipulated hybrid of two separate images. The image of Biden was taken five years ago while the image of Harris is from 2019.
The earliest post of the doctored image Annie Lab could find was made by Twitter user @KBrassenstein, a meme creator whose watermark can be seen in the image. This account has been suspended and remained inaccessible at the time of this article’s publication.

The original image of Kamala Harris was taken by freelance photojournalist David McNew at her first Los Angeles-area presidential campaign event on May 19, 2019.

The Biden image was shot by AP photojournalist Evan Vucci during Ash Carter’s swearing-in as Secretary of Defense at the White House in February 2015, in which Biden was seen with both hands on the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, Ash Carter’s wife.

Comparison of the doctored image and the original photographs. By Annie Lab

The doctored image not only put the two people together but also appears to have cropped out Biden’s left hand, flipped it, and put it on Harris’s right shoulder — presumably to make the image look more authentic.

The 2015 news photo featuring Biden has become source material for many internet memes and much digital manipulation.

Biden has been placed next to different individuals including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Chinese President Xi Jinping, among others.

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Disclaimer: This is a student work. Although JMSC faculty members have done everything possible to verify its accuracy, we cannot guarantee there are no mistakes. If you notice an error or have any questions, please email us at [email protected].


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