So I just came across the really weird story of Eduardo Martins, a very successful war-zone photographer and leukemia survivor, who made quite a name for himself by posting photos from Iraq, Syria and Palestine, gaining international attention and coverage for his work and personal story, reaching over 100.000 followers on Twitter, and who knows how many others on other social media, being published in many top tier news and lifestyle publications and having exhibitions arranged and his work exposed by the world of photographic information and entertainment.
As it turns out, the guy is a fraud and stole all the work he claimed to have shot while in dangerous war zones, and now, having been exposed, he is M.I.A. somewhere in Australia, where he is apparently living in a van, and hopefully hiding in shame.
So all is well that ends well, in a way, but not really, because this case brings a pretty serious issue in today's media distribution out in the open, and this is who should be considered responsible for situations like these.
There will always be impostors, con-people and frauds, this is just a fact of life, in the same way bad weather and having to eat at regular intervals are, so while legal responsibility (and moral, if you believe in such things) is quite obviously his, there is another issue that I, as a member of the public, feel has less to do with him and more to do with how the current media landscape has shaped out to work.
How is it possible that someone who is lying about very specific issues (there aren't thousands of photographers who have been to Aleppo in the midst of the civil war) is not intercepted by the filters that huge media players should have in place not only to ensure interesting, new and unique content, but also (and mostly, I would say) to keep cheaters, thieves and frauds away from the public?
Do these media outlets even have filters, fact-checking processes, or reference checks in place, or is an x number of followers sufficient to guarantee publication?
I won't go into too much detail on this story, because there is a lot of news about it already, and it makes no sense to repeat the same snippets of information, but there seem to have been many instances of his stories not holding up to even basic scrutiny, and some people did get suspicious, yet very few (Thank you, Natasha Ribeiro of BBC Brazil) seem to have made the extra effort to actually check if that foul smell of fraud was there for a reason or not.
What is the work ethic of digital media publishers, as a whole, in this fast and consumption-oriented market?
We can all agree speed has become a vital variable in the making of a successful story, and it's quite clear that publishers need to adapt or, most likely, get kicked out of the market, but is there really no place for some form of control over what is being published?
If not for legal or economical reasons, is there at least no pride in trying to provide information that the reader and viewer can trust?
And what about the value of news, and the taint a case like this should bring over publishers as a whole?
Those stories, sold for real (SOLD, mind you), have contributed to shape people's views of social and political issues, they might have convinced people to take action or get involved with some cause, and all this based on the fantasy stories of some Brazilian dude that likes to surf.
Sure, Eduardo should pay for what he took from others, but is there not a huge amount of responsibility over the heads of these big media players, which readers PAY even for their reputation of providing real, valuable stories?
And even worse, this case becomes even more disgusting when you think that so many people applying for low-pay, blue-collar jobs, need to go through all kinds of checks, as if the fate of the world depended on your local fast-food server not having smoked a joint in the last ten years.
Not to mention the countless photographers that work hard, struggle to improve and never see a dime, because they get "exposure" and they can "build their portfolio".
Yet it would seem that having 100.000 Twitter followers just seems to open the doors to the most prestigious levels of photo-journalism.
Where is the balance here, and at what point can it be said without fear of being too harsh, that big portions of the digital media market are prostituting their credibility in favor of speed and followers?
And at what point should the public hold publishers accountable for the bad work they do at providing news and information?
A quick search has shown me that some of the media outlets who published this guy's work have taken those pages down, and I am sure they will jump on the victim band-wagon, siding with us, the public, against the horrible deeds of this fraud.
But guess what, I don't want them on my side, they are not the public and they are not victims in this case, they are part of the problem, and I would like to see them apologize for the superficiality of their choices.
Actually, they can even keep the apology. I would like to see them hire a fact-checker or two, and make an effort to guarantee that what they publish is solid and news-worthy, not just the story of the hour, whether true or not.
Ok, rant over. Time to take some photos, for real!