Recently, Jeff Johnson, the Republican pick for Minnesota’s next governor, uploaded a photo and some generic copy about “fundamental change” and pressed “tweet.”
The photo appears to be a big, all-caps “VOTE FOR JOHNSON” sign slapped onto the side of what looks like a grain silo. As far as campaign images go, it’s pretty straightforward:
Except it’s fake.
Twitter user David Brauer found the original image used to create the one in Johnson’s tweet: a sharper, clearer photo of what looks like a grain silo. It still has the “VOTE FOR JOHNSON” sign on it, but it’s hanging directly beneath a sign that says “WALZ IS A TRAITOR!” If you look carefully at the doctored version, you can see the hazy space where the top half of the message was removed.
Wow: @MNJeffJohnson just tweeted out this photo: https://t.co/GHQxeJfxU6. IT’S PHOTOSHOPPED. Actual photo: https://t.co/f3NlG6fGpE. Both screenshots below, you can see crude photoshop in 1st image. Maybe just stay away from the image rather than altering/amplifying. #mngov pic.twitter.com/iQd9XoeU7h— David Brauer (@dbrauer) October 22, 2018
This is not exactly a masterpiece -- Brauer called it “crude.” So why was Johnson willing to use a messily photoshopped image for his campaign? He didn’t respond to interview requests, but it’s possible he didn’t notice. His tweet has since disappeared.
It’s not the first appearance of an image manufactured to sway the outcome of the election, and it won't be the last. MPR found the doozy at the top of this page, which shows an Infinity War-esque crossover featuring Democratic candidates Keith Ellison, Amy Klobuchar, and Tina Smith campaigning in a homeless tent city in Minneapolis.
If you look at it any longer than five seconds, you start to notice that it’s a little off. Is Tina Smith really that tall? And are there two separate and opposing suns shining down on her and Ellison? And why is Klobuchar weirdly gritty-looking?
MPR identified it as a “poor Photoshop attempt” by an outside group called Right Now MN, which is trying to bog down Smith and Klobuchar’s campaigns by associating them with Ellison, and, by extension, with the allegations of domestic abuse he’s currently facing.
Speaking of which, the bounty of the internet has also churned up quite a few fake images of Ellison’s ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, who accuses him of physically and verbally abusing her. As the story surfaced, photos of a woman with a badly-beaten, purple, swollen face and one blood red eye started popping up, with captions implicating that she was Monahan and that Ellison was the one who’d put her in such bad shape.
These photos are not of Karen Monahan. In fact, Monahan asked people to stop sharing it in connection to her or her story -- and furthermore, to stop spreading photos of a badly injured woman without knowing who she is or whether she consents to the image being shared.
Fake images -- and fake news -- are nothing new. What is new, MPR remarks, is how much closer to home they’re getting. Back in 2016, we never would have expected to see so many state elections being swayed by clever (or not so clever) artifice.
Which means voters -- and candidates -- need to get smarter about what’s real and what’s not, and fast. Not every photoshop or fake image is going to be so painfully obvious.