“Own the school year like a hero,” the sign reads, sitting tight above a glass cabinet where firearms face the ceiling, their size imposing.
It’s the kind of cabinet where you would typically see sunglasses, bags and wallets displayed, readied for sale.
This time, though, it’s guns in a local Walmart. The juxtaposition between the signage and the guns underneath is jarring at best, insulting at worst.
In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting at the weekend, where 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured, the image is a timely reminder about the kind of gun culture that sits at the very bedrock of American society: The idea that an individual’s right to bear arms trumps a universal right to live without fear of raining bullets.
It’s an image that is circulating this week. Todd Sampson shared the image on his Facebook page, where the post has been met with nearly 400 comments, 1,700 likes and nearly 500 shares. Outrage is the common and binding thread.
But before you jump, with both feet, onto a bandwagon moving with the force of a world desperate for the US to legislate against guns, the image isn’t helpful. Because the image isn’t real.
The image in question was initially posted on Twitter on the 9th of August this year by user Ismail Kidd Noorzai. Backlash was swift like backlash always is, because backlash rarely waits for truth before sprouting its headlines.
However, in the days after the story had already spread, Walmart confirmed the image was, in fact, a prank.
Charles Crowson, a spokesperson for Walmart, told USA TODAY the company is “certain” the incident was a ruse. He did not specify what part was a prank – whether the image itself was doctored or someone fixed the display – but did make sure the message was clear: this was, by definition, fake news.
Noorzai confirmed to Snopes he initially stumbled across the picture on Reddit on a board dedicated to humour. That was, he didn’t take the image himself.
So in an era of fake news, and in the turbulent times following such senseless and massive acts of evil, how can we not be blinded by our own passion? How can we be skeptical of news, when anger points us to see, occasionally, only the things we want to see?
According to Vincent O’Donnell, an honorary research associate in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, a dose of “healthy skepticism” when considering the news on your feed is always helpful.