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False: Images of Greta Thunberg’s ‘weight gain’ are digitally manipulated


(Editor's note: this article is first published at Annie Lab, a fact-checking project by Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong and Asian Network of News and Information Educators (ANNIE), and was written by Audrey Ng and Ananta Agarwal.)

Multiple social media posts imply Swedish climate activist Thunberg has gained weight. However, they are digitally manipulated. Her face appears much smaller in the original photos.

On April 19, a post on Facebook with a collage of three photos of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg claimed she has gained weight over the years.

The Chinese post reads, “Working in environment protection makes it easy to earn? A Japanese netizen found the environment-protecting girl already turning into Pompeo,” referring to Mike Pompeo, former U.S. Secretary of State.

The post has gained more than 1,000 interactions, 145 shares and 200 comments at the time of writing.

A screenshot of the misleading post on Facebook

A flipped version of the image on the right was posted on an online art community called DeviantArt. The image was published on the platform in February 2020, the earliest Annie Lab can find.

The digitally manipulated image can be seen on Deviant Art.

However, the image that purportedly shows her putting on weight is digitally manipulated.

Thunberg’s chin area was exaggerated to make her face appear much bigger than it is in the real news photo taken in 2019 found on Getty Image’s website.

The news photo was taken by Jack Taylor on April 21, 2019. The caption says Thunberg met with protesters from Extinction Rebellion, an environmental campaign group.

Annie Lab compared the original photo with the manipulated image in the GIF below.

A comparison of Thunberg’s face in the fake image and the news photo.

The manipulated image also circulated through various social media platforms in different languages, including English and Korean.

A similar claim featuring the image in question is found on Twitter, for example, in Japanese that has gained 1,935 likes, 473 retweets and 171 comments.

Another similar post on Weibo gained more than 2,200 likes, 460 comments and 104 shares. It also reiterated the false claim that Thunberg “once asked Chinese people not to use chopsticks,” which has been debunked by Reuters. The false claim was also accompanied by another altered image (seen below).

Another manipulated photo circulating on the Internet (left). The original (right) came from a video interview with Thunberg in 2018.

This version of the manipulated image of Thunberg appeared in many other social media posts as well.

The original picture seems to have been captured from this video (0:04) filmed by Jan Ainali, during Thunberg’s strike outside the Swedish parliament in 2018.

In his Wikimedia Commons user page, Ainali says he was an employee at the European Parliament at the time he filmed the video of Thunberg.

Below is a recent photo of Thunberg uploaded on April 16 on her official Twitter account.

A screenshot of Thunberg’s tweet with a recent picture of herself posted in April

Thunberg has been a frequent target of disinformation around the world. She has appeared on multiple public forums, including the U.N. General Assembly, to raise awareness about climate change.

The disinformation targeting Thunberg increased after Japan announced its plan to release contaminated water from the ruined Fukushima nuclear power plant back into the ocean.

Thunberg tweeted an article from Al Jazeera on April 13 and retweeted Green Peace’s post condemning the Japanese government’s decision on the same day.

Some netizens in China are angry that Thunberg, usually a vocal critic of government policies that are detrimental to the environment, did not explicitly condemned Japan’s move.

Meanwhile, some Japanese netizens seem to have regarded Thunberg’s retweet as a sign of her disapproval.


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