Old photo of Sri Lankan kite festival misrepresented as 'anti-government protest tactic'

·3 min read

A photo has circulated in Facebook posts that claim it shows anti-government demonstrators in Sri Lanka flying kites to disrupt a military helicopter hovering above a protest site in the capital Colombo in mid-July. But the image, shared thousands of times, has circulated in a misleading context. It was actually taken at a kite festival in Colombo in 2016, years before the current unrest. A journalist who was at the protest site told AFP the protesters did not fly kites to disrupt the aircraft.

The photo was posted here on Facebook on July 13, 2022. It has been shared more than 900 times.

The Sinhala-language caption translates to English as: "Bring on the helicopters now."

The image circulated online after a video emerged on social media showing a Sri Lankan military helicopter flying low above Galle Face Green in the capital Colombo on July 13.

Demonstrators had been gathering there to protest the government's failure to handle the country's worst economic crisis since independence.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore on July 14, days after protesters stormed into his official residence. He officially resigned from his post on July 15.

Sri Lanka's six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was set to be sworn in as president on July 21, AFP reported.

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on July 18, 2022

The same image was shared more than 9,000 times alongside a similar claim on Facebook, including here and here.

Comments from some social media users on the misleading posts indicated some believed the image showed protesters flying kites to disrupt the military helicopter.

"What a creative generation of youth! The government and their enslaved military tried to clash with the wrong generation," wrote one commenter.

Another user wrote: "Wow. How did you all even find this many kites on such short notice. Anyway, great tactic to fight back".

The claim, however, is misleading: the photo actually shows a kite festival in 2016.

Kite festival

A reverse image search on Google found the same photo published in this article on the website of local English-language newspaper Daily Mirror on August 22, 2016.

"Colourful kites dotted the Colombo skies yesterday at the kite festival organised by a leading privately owned television network in the country," the photo's caption reads, referring to the Sri Lankan broadcaster Derana.

"The picture shows kites in the Galle Face sky, and in the background is the Chinese-built Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) of Colombo port."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the image in the misleading post (left) and the photo published by the Daily Mirror (right):

Screenshot comparison of the image in the misleading post (L) and the photo published by the Daily Mirror (R)

Derana uploaded a clip on August 21, 2016 to its YouTube channel showing the same kite festival. 

'Tense', but no kites

A 26-second clip uploaded to Facebook on July 13, 2022 shows the military helicopter flying low over a crowd of protesters at the same demonstration. There are no kites seen in the clip.

A Sri Lankan photographer who witnessed the protest but did not wish to be named told AFP that protesters did not fly kites to disrupt the military helicopter.

"None of them flew kites to retaliate," he told AFP.

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