Amazon fires: how celebrities are spreading misinformation

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Many high-profile figures seeking to denounce the fires in the Amazon – from Madonna and Cristiano Ronaldo to Leonardo DiCaprio and Emmanuel Macron – have unwittingly ended up misleading millions on social media, either sharing photographs of the region that are years old or images taken in other parts of the world.

Official figures show nearly 73,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first 8 months of the year, the highest number for any year since 2013. Most were in the Amazon.


"Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 percent of our oxygen is burning," France's President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter, posting a photograph of a burning forest accompanied by the hashtag #ActForTheAmazon.

"It is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let's talk in two days about this emergency," Macron said ahead of a planned summit this weekend in Biarritz.

But the photograph used by the French leader does not show this year's fires. A reverse image search showed that it was taken by the American photojournalist Loren McIntyre, known for his work for National Geographic.

Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest - the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen - is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon — Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 22, 2019

Although the image search tool does not reveal when exactly the photograph was taken, McIntyre died in 2003, meaning the image is at least 16 years old.

Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, also ended up tweeting a misleading image to issue a warning about the fires, using a photograph by Reuters journalist Nacho Doce from 2013.

Los incendios forestales en #Amazonas son graves, afectan los pulmones de nuestro planeta y ponen en riesgo la salud de sus habitantes. Hoy conversé con Presidentes de Brasil @jairBolsonaro y Bolivia @Evoespueblo y les ofrecí la ayuda de Chile para combatir los incendios. — Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) August 22, 2019


Leonardo DiCaprio shared two pictures that proved to be inaccurate – the first was the same one shared by Macron while the second was shot in the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado in 2016.

Peru is not currently affected by the fires, though authorities are "on alert".

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Leonardo DiCaprio (@leonardodicaprio) on Aug 21, 2019 at 12:11pm PDT

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Leonardo DiCaprio (@leonardodicaprio) on Aug 22, 2019 at 7:12am PDT

Actor and rapper Jaden Smith, son of superstar Will Smith, posted a dramatic image on Instagram that shows a vast forest on fire as huge columns of smoke rise from it. But the photo, which has garnered more than 1.5 million likes, dates back to 1989.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jaden Smith (@c.syresmith) on Aug 21, 2019 at 5:35am PDT

Argentine actress and singer Martina Stoessel also shared an old photo with a Twitter post saying, "How sad to see this...". That picture was shot by Getty Images photographer Mario Toma in 2014.

Que tristeza ver esto...Mientras el Amazonas se incendia hace 16 días, la indiferencia de muchos nos lleva a la extinción del planeta. Es una verguenza la falta de cobertura de algunos medios #PrayforAmazonas — TINI (@TiniStoessel) August 22, 2019


Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin and Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello also shared the McIntyre photo tweeted by Macron, DiCaprio and Alves.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Ricky (@ricky_martin) on Aug 21, 2019 at 2:46pm PDT

This makes me want to cry with frustration. what are we DOING? We’re literally destroying our miracle of a home I’m so sorry, earth — camila (@Camila_Cabello) August 21, 2019

Madonna posted the same 1989 image, writing on Instagram: "President Bolsonaro please change your policies and help not only your country but the entire planet. No economic development is more important than protecting this land."

"We need to WAKE -UP!!" she wrote.

(15) The Fires Are Raging and The Amazonia continues to burn.........This is a devastation to Brazil—to the indigenous people who live there and the-plant and animal species that make this the most important bio-diverse Forest!!! President Bolsonaro please... — Madonna (@Madonna) August 22, 2019