The Hazards of Internet Research

The internet is an amazing tool – I truly believe the revolution in communications it has ushered in is one of the pivotal paradigm shifts in human history. It has eliminated geographic restrictions on sharing information, and thus allowed anyone worldwide to learn about the most specific niche subjects conceivable. However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. While the ‘net allows us access to massive volumes of data, it does nothing inherently to sort or verify that data. A rumor that could spread across a town in years previous can travel the globe in hours now.

In our field of historical arms research, the problem has existed for a while. A good example is the Cei Rigotti rifle – someone long ago wrote the first bit of literature on them, and simply assumed that being Italian, they must have been chambered for 6.5 Carcano. Turns out they aren’t – but since there are very few around to actually look at, everyone too that first guy’s mistake as gospel, and it has been repeated in every description of the gun ever since.

With our technical ability to tinker with photos, we are going to see this turning up with fake historical photos too – in fact, we already are. For example, here’s a scan of an article on the Volkssturm from the February 2013 edition of Vizier magazine in Germany:

Vizier magazine Feb 2013 - fake image
The photo on the right was shot in 2012. The one on the left, probably 1945…

That photo on the right of the Volkssturm with the StG? That was taken in 2012 by my friend Oleg Volk, with an ATI .22-caliber StG, and the background added digitally (you can see the original posting here: A good fight in a bad cause). It looks pretty dang real, and clearly the editors at Vizier didn’t take the time to ensure it was authentic.

Here’s another example that comes up from time to time (although I haven’t seen it in a print publication yet):

Not an StG45
This photo is a real person, and a computer-generated rifle.

The fellow in this photo created it as a fun project. The rifle (a prototype StG-45M) is a 3D computer model that he created and digitally added into the picture. You can see him commenting on it here on the AxisHistory forum: 7.92mm StG45-MP-45.

Neither of these images was created with any intent of passing them off as historically authentic photos – but it is easy for things to be reposted a couple times and take on completely new titles and descriptions, thanks to the internet. When looking for sources on the ‘net, we always need to be careful to check out the origins of photos and information, so we can avoid making these sorts of mistakes. At the same time, this is a good reason to learn the little details of things, so we can spot when a photo or datum is inconsistent, and be able to better sort truth from rumor and fiction.