15 years ago, one of the earliest and cruelest online photo-hoaxes made its first appearance.
According to Snopes, this “accidental tourist” photo started popping up worldwide in email chains just a couple of weeks after 9/11, usually preceded by this message:
“We’ve seen thousands of pictures concerning the attack. However, this one will make you cringe. A simple tourist getting himself photographed on the top of the WTC just seconds before the tragedy … the camera was found in the rubble!!”
This photo had already become a worldwide phenomenon by the end of September, when most people were still struggling to grasp the enormity of the terrorist attack.
But it was quickly found to be a hoax.
There are several obvious errors:
- Film probably wouldn’t survive the events of 9/11.
- That’s the wrong font for a date-stamp.
- It was a really nice day on 9/11, much too warm for a coat and hat.
- The outdoor observation decks of the only tower that had them weren’t open until another 40 minutes after the 1st plane struck.
- The plane in the photo is coming from the wrong direction, or this is the wrong tower. Take your pick.
- It’s the wrong type of plane.
That’s a Boeing 757. The only American Airlines flight to crash into the World Trade Center was a 767.
Also, note how the reflection over the cockpit is exactly the same as the one in the photo-hoax.
With so many glaring errors, the hoax didn’t last long, but it quickly morphed into something even larger: On now defunct websites like TouristGuy.com and the archived TouristofDeath.com, people turned the hoax into an early version of a meme:
The phenomenon continued to pick up steam in the following months, as people grew more curious about who the person in the photo was, and who created the original hoax.