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Barack Obama, falsely Instagrammed“Pics or it didn’t happen,” the kids like to say on Internet discussion boards when confronted with an unlikely scenario that calls for photographic verification.

How about making that “Pics and it didn’t happen”? That’s the scenario that unfolded after the founder of a popular tech news-headlines site claimed he checked into a San Francisco bar popular with young startup workers and happened upon President Obama, who was in the Bay Area yesterday to meet with local tech innovators. He then shared a photo purportedly taken at the scene with Instagram, a hot mobile photo-sharing service.

Only one problem: The photo that Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera posted was three years old and taken in the Raleigh Times bar in Raleigh Times, North Carolina. At the time Rivera posted yesterday’s pic, Obama was actually dining with Silicon Valley bigwigs 30 miles away in Woodside, Calif. — a fact that could have been verified by checking the White House schedule.

Photographic hoaxes are as old as photography itself. But the new location- and photo-sharing services designed for mobile apps are meant to lend verisimilitude to postings. Foursquare, for example, the location-based service Rivera checked in with, announces the Twitter usernames of other people who have checked in at the same location. That’s easy to fake, though, by manually typing those usernames in as you check in. Instagram, likewise, is meant to share photos taken on the go, linked to a nearby location using a phone’s GPS. Nothing’s stopping a user from downloading a photo, then reuploading it, and claiming it as real.

I think the use of Foursquare and Instagram were key to taking people in: They simply weren’t expecting a hoax on services meant to thrive on a tighter connection to what’s happening right now in the world around you. But Rivera’s stunt served as a useful reminder that every day, technology is making humans easier to use.

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