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Fact check: Image of Costco gas pump screen blaming Biden is fabricated

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6/17/2022 Dezimey Kum, USA TODAY

The claim: Costco gas pump screen says 'Don’t blame us. Blame Joe Biden'

The surge in gas prices is frustrating millions of Americans traveling this summer, and many are holding President Joe Biden responsible for higher costs at the pump.

Recently, stickers with an image of Biden next to the words "I did that" have been sighted on gas pumps all over the country, and photographs of the stickers have been circulated on social media.

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Now posts have asserted that gas station owners are condemning the president, too.

A May 27 Facebook post purports to show a photograph of a digital screen at a Costco gas pump with the price $147.34 for 26 gallons and a message that reads, “Don’t blame us. Blame Joe Biden.” In place of the normal "Yes" and "No" options, the screen says "Yes" twice.

"Forget Stickers. Costco just went digital," reads the caption of the post.

The post accumulated more than 12,000 shares and 800 reactions in less than a week. Similar posts have amassed hundreds of interactions on Facebook.

But the image is not authentic.

Digital forensic experts told USA TODAY the image was altered. Costco representatives said the company did not put that text on any of its pumps.

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook users who shared the claim for comment.

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Gas pump screen is digitally altered

There are several reasons to conclude the image is manipulated, according to digital forensic experts. 

For one thing, the word "Yes" in the photograph appears to be doctored. In addition to the word appearing twice where the debit and credit options are often found, it also seems to be on the machine above the digital screen.

"The floating 'Yes' above the Costco panel, (and) the two (uses of) 'Yes' on the screen are nearly identical, suggesting a copy-paste manipulation," said Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Information.

Siwei Lyu, a digital forensics expert at the University of Buffalo, detected a sign of photo manipulation when zooming in on the image.

"You will notice some patterns showing up in the background of the LED screen as semi-regular grids," Liu said. "These patterns are known as the Moiré pattern, it is an artifact due to the mismatch between the camera sensor's pixel grid and the LED screen."

Costco told USA TODAY in an email exchange that the message was not authorized to appear on its gas station screens.

"The Costco gas station post/image you are referring to is not affiliated with or approved by Costco," Costco representatives said.

Costco also posted a statement on Facebook in response to the altered image.

"There have been several reports of scams and manipulated images related to Costco gas stations across various social media platforms," reads the statement. "These are in no way affiliated with or approved by Costco. Thanks to our members for bringing these to our attention."

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Our rating: Altered

Based on our research, we rate ALTERED an image that shows a Costco gas pump screen saying "Don’t blame us. Blame Joe Biden." The photo is manipulated. Costco officials said they did not create any such message for the gas pump screens, and digital forensic experts say the image shows evidence of manipulation.

Our fact-checking sources: 

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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Image of Costco gas pump screen blaming Biden is fabricated



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