A few days ago a reader sent me a link about unsold cars piling up around the world. I did not touch the story because I had already seen it, years earlier in fact.
Flashback January 19, 2009 Unsold Car Images From Around The World.
Nonetheless, the story was recently picked up as "new" in so many places that Bloomberg's Barry Ritholtz felt the need to set the story straight in The Truth About Auto Sales.
This week, an e-mail landed in my inbox with the header “Unsold Cars.”
Normally, I would have deleted the e-mail without a second thought. But several things about it warranted further notice.
The first were aerial photos of thousands of cars. Wow, this really was a lot of cars.
The second was the phrase “Timestamp: Friday, May 16th, 2014,” which suggests that these photos were brand new.
What struck me was how familiar it all looked. Maybe that was because I posted those same photos on The Big Picture blog and Business Insider in February 2009.
The origin of the photos was a Jan. 16, 2009, article in the Guardian by Nick Mead. Note that this was smack in the middle of the financial crisis, when anything purchased on credit simply froze. At the time, other sites also picked up the photos from the Guardian, such as car blogs like Jalopnik, and market sites like Mish’s Global Economic Analysis.
The truth about these five-year-old photos didn't stop the usual doom and gloomers from immediately running with them. Zero Hedge, Silver Bear, Daily Paul, and too many others to list here re-posted these old snaps as if they were new.
Which raises the following question: How trustworthy are your favorite Internet sources? It varies a lot.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this over the weekend, two other sites have identified the photos and story as false: Debunker site Snopes.com and, in far less family friendly but much more amusing language, the auto blog Jalopnik.
Moral of the Story
It's best to fact check, especially if you don't have a good memory. As with Barry, I did not bother posting the story last week because I knew I had seen those images before. Barry only posted the story because so many places incorrectly posted the story as new.
Note: The Silver Bear reference is incorrect. It is an undated duplicate of my 2009 post.