Fact check Malta: Watch your step – image of rainbow steps being shared out of context

On Saturday 6 July, an image showing what appeared to be a digger demolishing rainbow-coloured steps in a seemingly suburban street while a man stood watching a few metres away, was widely shared on Facebook.

Amongst those who shared it was a self-proclaimed ‘personal blog’ page called ‘This is Malta’, which shared the image without a caption. Given that the page frequently posts images taken locally, one would easily assume that this shot followed that trend.

And perhaps owing to the political controversy that might be read in the image – the rainbow has come to be an international symbol of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and here it is seemingly being destroyed by heavy machinery – the post attracted quite a bit of attention: almost a thousand users reacted to it and almost three hundred commented on it. 

The photo was widely shared across social media on Saturday 6 July.

The post was also shared by several other popular local Facebook groups throughout the day, each time receiving widespread attention from the page’s followers.

Several commenters debunked the image instantly, stating that it was not taken in Malta. Others ignored the issue of context and took the post as an opportunity to write disparagingly about the LGBTQ+ community. Others yet speculated that the photo was taken in Indonesia. 

But, as some Facebook users pointed out, and as a reverse image search on the image quickly reveals, the photo was actually taken in Istanbul.

Even the temporal context was incorrect – it was taken almost a decade ago, in 2015. Reuters fact-checked the image in April last year, when the photo was being widely shared and miscaptioned by social media users.

According to Reuters, many were claiming that the steps were being destroyed because they carried a political message in support of the LGBTQ+ community. However, the report went on, the artist behind the work has repeatedly said that the steps were not inspired by activism – he simply wanted ‘to make people smile’. Still, the steps were seen as a show of solidarity and they became a political issue. They were painted grey before eventually returning to their bright hues.

The steps were eventually repainted. Screengrab: Google Maps

But what about the demolishing shown in the image?

As Reuters reported last year, the image showed the rainbow stairs being dug up due to construction work in 2015. Today, the stairs are as they were on the day they were first painted, and they still stand in Istanbul – not Malta.


How to debunk an image like this one: a basic reverse image search on Google Images or Google Lens should do the trick. Images like this one, which may be interpreted as political controversy, easily instigate strong emotions that lead people to leap before they look. In other words, watch your step and think before you react to a post.

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Fact Check, Society

Author(s): Department of Media and Communications

Originally published here.