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False caption turns viral photo of Vietnamese kids into Nepalese quake victims

Tuesday, May 05, 2015, 11:30 GMT+7
False caption turns viral photo of Vietnamese kids into Nepalese quake victims
Two Vietnamese kids are seen in Ha Giang Province, located in northern Vietnam, in this photo taken in 2007 and posted on the author's Facebook on May 6, 2013.

When Na Son Nguyen saw that his photo depicting two children in Vietnam's mountainous area had gone viral on the Internet under a caption saying they are Nepalese earthquake victims, he was not surprised at all.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Na Son, a freelance photojournalist who mostly sells his works to AP Images, said this is not the first time the picture, shot almost a decade ago, has been reproduced under a false description.

The photo shows a boy embracing his younger sister, with both wearing unwashed clothes and dirt covering their legs.

Sadness can be seen in the eyes of the boy, whereas the little girl looks like she would never let go of her brother, a scene that is touching to any viewers.

The Vietnamese photojournalist has uploaded the photo to his Facebook page many times. In a comment under the photo posted in November last year, Na Son also recalled the story behind the picture.

Mình post lại tấm này vì tình cờ hôm nay có mấy bạn Việt Nam, mấy bạn Ả Rập gửi link cho mình về mấy cái page kiểu "Lặng...

Posted by Nguyen Son on Monday, May 6, 2013

The Facebook post in which Na Son criticized those who stole his photo and made up false stories about it.

The photo was shot in October 2007 in Can Ty, a remote village in the northern Vietnamese mountainous province of Ha Giang, and the kids are of the H’Mong ethnic group, according to the photographer.

“I went to the village to play with the kids and this girl was crying in fear after seeing strangers,” Na Son wrote.

“The boy then came and hugged his sister and comforted her, and she eventually stopped crying.”

Na Son said the boy was a little more than two years old, while the girl “was just beginning to walk.”

The photographer told the BBC on Monday it was “too beautiful and lovely a moment not to be captured.”

But the two Vietnamese kids have now been shown to the world as “two little victims” of the devastating earthquake that killed at least 7,300 people in Nepal last week.

“The photo has gone viral in India,” Na Son said in a separate Facebook status update on Monday, saying many Indian newspapers and radio stations have reproduced the picture under such false captions.

The photo also went viral among Facebook and Twitter users, who believed it shows “a two-year-old girl being protected by her four-year-old brother in Nepal.”

Efforts have even reportedly been launched to search for the kids, and people have been raising funds to help them.

“Now many people know the caption is misleading,” Na Son said in the same Facebook post.

The Vietnamese photojournalist called this a case of “presstitute” – a blend of press and prostitute.

The term was coined by Gerald Celente, an American trend forecaster, referring to a media outlet or reporter who produces misleading news to fit a particular partisan, financial or business agenda.

Na Son apparently began to realize that his photo had been used under a number of false captions back in 2013.

In a Facebook update on May 5 that year, the photographer said his photo had been “stolen” by many newswires and Facebook pages, under such painful made-up stories as the kids are infants whose parents have died.

And the Vietnamese H’Mong kids were even said to be those from Myanmar, Thailand, and even Syria.

“Perhaps this is the most shared among my photos,” he told the BBC. “Sadly, it is spread with false, painful stories.”

In October 2014, Na Son also had one of his photos used by the Hanoi Library without permission and under an incorrect caption.


The library captioned his black-and-white wedding photo capturing a couple as “Hanoi during the 1960s” for an exhibition, while the picture was in fact taken in 2008 of the two wearing the old-style suit and ao dai (traditional Vietnamese dress) to re-create the city’s historic atmosphere 50 years earlier.

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