Alison Buttigieg has been capturing awesome wildlife shots for 13 years, but she’s recently discovered the devastating real-life impacts of fake news by being the subject of a completely fabricated headline.
And it all started with one of her favourite photos…
The primal snap of a cheetah teaching her young cub to hunt an impala was taken during Buttigieg’s trip to Kenya in September 2013. While the scene was a sad one, Alison was extremely excited to have captured such a natural shot, until a mysterious author fabricated a horrible backstory.
Her photo was posted with a story claiming that the prey had sacrificed itself to save its calves (even mixing up the impala with a deer), with the whole ordeal allegedly leading Alison to depression.
The post went viral in just a couple of hours, and she was very soon receiving hundreds of Facebook messages and emails about people asking her if she was fine. “As the hours went by and it just started to spread everywhere, it wasn’t funny anymore, because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it,” she said. Even some of her friends, who Alison assumed would see past the fake news, reached out checking whether she was OK.
“As the hours went by and it just started to spread everywhere, it wasn’t funny anymore, because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.”
As a highly experienced wildlife photographer, one of the worst things about this fabricated news that went so viral is the potential devastating effects on Alison’s career. “As a wildlife photographer, we need to be factual,” she explained. “If people think that I invented that fake story, my credibility as a photographer would be annihilated immediately.”
Thankfully, the counter-claims against this fake news have flocked online to the thousands to protect Alison and her credibility as a respected photographer, but they’ll have a hard time going as viral as the fabrication that started all of this.
“If people think that I invented that fake story, my credibility as a wildlife photographer would be annihilated immediately.”
Buttigieg has since then come out to tell the true story behind the infamous photo. “What people don’t realize is that there are real people behind some of these stories,” she said. “If you share a story with somebody’s name, it’s impacting a real person behind that.” And as she perfectly puts it, ‘normal people’ don’t have many ways to fight back against a viral powerhouse.
Photographing wildlife is not just Alison’s passion. She’s currently trying to raise awareness of the pitiful 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild. To learn more about cheetah conservation, visit Panthera’s website. And while this photo will surely live on in the Internet Hall of Fame, it’s by no means not the only great shot by Alison, as her website clearly proves.