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false context confirmation bias

Viral image of a marine traffic map does not just show “sitting ships”

An image of a map taken from what appears to be a maritime traffic tracking website has been widely shared online as evidence of gridlocked container ships awaiting an open port. There is a backlog of cargo ships at some major U.S. ports — but that’s not what this map shows. Let’s take a look at the facts.

A Facebook post of a map with small red, green and blue triangular icons in the ocean waters surrounding the Americas. The post reads “All sitting ships… I don’t care what ya’ll say, things are about to get real. Welcome to the next Trojan horse.” The News Literacy Project added a label that says “FALSE.”
The icons on this map are not all symbols for “sitting ships” as they wait to unload cargo at overloaded ports.
The icons indicate the location of cargo (green), tanker (red) and passenger (blue) ships tracked by the MarineTraffic website at a particular moment.
The arrow-shaped icons indicate ships that are moving (in transit) – the vast majority of ships on the map.
Dot icons show ships that aren’t moving.
There is a record-breaking bottleneck at several major ports — particularly at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — caused by complex supply chain issues related to the pandemic.
An Oct. 14 screenshot of the MarineTraffic website showing a similar region as the viral image. An enlarged view (inset) of traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shows a cluster of dot icons, which indicate ships that aren’t moving. The green dots indicate cargo ships sitting still.
An Oct. 14 screenshot of the MarineTraffic website showing a similar region as the viral image. An enlarged view (inset) of traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shows a cluster of dot icons, which indicate ships that aren’t moving. The green dots indicate cargo ships sitting still.

NewsLit takeaway

Screenshots of articles or graphics are commonly used out of context as false evidence on social media. In this case, not only did the person posting this fail to provide information about its origin, the poster also included conspiratorial language (“Welcome to the next Trojan horse”). Such details are red flags. A quick search for key words included in this viral claim (e.g. “sitting ships”) is an efficient way to find fact-checks and links to credible, standards-based news reports about the container ship bottleneck. Another helpful strategy is to click on the user’s account and examine other posts to gauge their credibility. In this case, the user has a history of posting conspiracy theories and other fringe content – yet another reason to view this post with skepticism.

“Image of map doesn’t show hundreds of ‘sitting’ ships waiting to dock at US ports” (Samantha Putterman, PolitiFact).

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