October 18, 2019
Carter Zupancich | MediaWise Teen Fact-Checker

MediaWise Rating: DOCTORED

On Sept. 1, President Donald Trump posted a tweet stating that Alabama would be hit by Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that was traveling up the East Coast. Later, I saw a Twitter moment trending about Trump showing a map that looked like it was changed with marker to contradict the local NWS team. I wanted to dig into #sharpiegate. Was the map actually doctored? Here’s how the story played out online, plus tips on how to navigate trending political topics.

Start with a keyword search

After a quick Google search using variations of “Trump hurricane projections” and “Alabama hurricane forecasts,” I came across plenty of news sources reporting on Trump’s claim and map. I found this PolitiFact article that helps explain how this went down. “As for Trump’s potentially Sharpied cone map, that also looks like a case of exaggerating one of many five-day forecasts,” the fact-checking site reported.

Fox News used the event to criticize other media outlets, while acknowledging in the first paragraph of an article the existence of “a squiggle drawn on a map with a black Sharpie” and “a crude black bubble on a days-old National Weather Service map.” According to CNN, the forecasts that were initially brought to Trump had a very small corner of Alabama included in the hurricane projection. But forecasts were updated days in advance of his Sept. 1 tweet, and they showed the path Dorian was going to make up the East Coast.

Read past the headline

It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional side of news and take the first headline or article as accurate. The same goes for Twitter moments. You always have to read past the headline. At first glance, it says Trump appeared to use an altered map to include Alabama in the hurricane path. A quick Google search helps piece together the whole story, including how Trump — or someone on his staff — altered an official map from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In this case, lateral reading across many platforms is a must, as lots of information is available on Twitter, but more detailed responses are scattered across many news sources. After seeing a headline like this on social media, you should open a new tab and use keywords from the article or headline to collect more information from trusted sources. Reading across a bunch of tabs like this makes sure you’re absorbing all the information — not just the things that the author wanted you to read.

Our rating

Overall, the hurricane projection that was posted Sept. 4 is DOCTORED. Many sources claim the addition of Alabama was “sharpied on.” Regardless, the projection was outdated, even if it was from NOAA.

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Alex Mahadevan is director of MediaWise at the Poynter Institute. He has taught digital media literacy to thousands of middle and high schoolers, and has…
Alex Mahadevan

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