A photo posted on Facebook on 21 October 2020 shows a roughed-up, red-eyed man, his face dirty with soot.
“As ‘klaar gepraat’ ń gesig gehad het,” its caption reads, in Afrikaans. “Sou dit hierdie boer, wat hand en tand teen die opsetlike brande baklei, se gesig gewees het.” It adds the hashtags #Scorchedearth and #ProtectOurFarmers.
The caption roughly translates as: “If ‘no more talking’ had a face, it would be the face of this South African farmer, who fought hand and tooth against the deliberately lit fires.”
The post has been shared more than 100 times from its original source on a personal Facebook page. One share is on the popular page “Afrikaners”, which has over 100,000 followers. This spurred another flurry of shares.
But does the photo really show the face of a South African farmer, exhausted from fighting intentionally set fires?
‘Fire whooped my ass’
A Google reverse image search reveals that the photo surfaced in September 2020 and was shared widely on platforms such as Reddit and 9gag. It was described as showing a firefighter in the US state of Washington.
The photo was first posted on the Facebook page of Washington firefighter Ike Cawston (he uses the name “Spepul Cawston” on the platform) on 8 September, with the caption: “Fire whooped my ass.” It has been shared more than 47,000 times.
Cawston’s page has numerous other photos of the same man from recent years, confirming him as the source and subject of the photo. He has also posted several other firsthand photos and videos of the wildfires that hit Washington state in September.
Several weeks after his photo went viral, Cawston was interviewed by the Weather Channel. In the interview – published on 26 October under the headline “The Story of One Firefighter’s Thousand-Yard Stare” – he said the photo was taken while fires were burning on the Colville Reservation in central Washington in early September.
The Weather Channel is not a traditional news outlet, but it is a professional media operation with no history of publishing misleading information.
The photo does not show a South African farmer. – Tim Forster
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