A photography darkroom is a magical place. Smelling of strange chemicals and suffused in either total darkness or a dim red light, it is a place where images rise from white paper to reveal what has been previously seen.

The darkroom allows for some manipulation; an experienced film photographer can add to or subtract from what was in front of the camera’s lens. Color work offers even more opportunity for invention. But always, in film and chemical image production, there is a connection to the truth of the world outside the photographer’s mind.

Digital imagery is another realm entirely, one that allows for creation of new truths.

While cruising the feeds of my habitual social medium last month, I came across a post with a picture captioned, “Lovely peacock flower.” In the center of a blue, fan-shaped flower, in the same deep indigo shade, was the form of a peacock’s body including the delicate crest, slanted eye, and slightly downturned beak. Comments under the post indicated credulity on the part of viewers.

Photoshop is quite a tool.

The actual peacock flower, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, is generally a vivid orange color. Native to Asia, the plant has been introduced to every continent but Antarctica.

The Invasive Species Compendium at cabi.org says risk of its introduction into other environments is “currently low to moderate … It has escaped from cultivation and behaves as a weed … has a fast growth rate spreading 10-12 feet and is evergreen.” Because it easily casts its own seeds, “ … the probability of invasion may rise in areas near its cultivation.”

Basically human tinkering has already spread this plant so well, there is little planet left for it to invade. Kind of like us.

While the plant has some uses, the seeds of Caesalpinia pulcherrima are poisonous to mammals.

There is another flower, commonly called butterfly pea, that more closely resembles the flower on my friend’s timeline. In fact, without the fanciful bird body in the middle, Clitoria ternatea is a dead ringer for someone’s idea of an image that might go viral.

Unlike the actual peacock flower, the butterfly pea is not known to be poisonous. It has traditional medicinal uses, and been introduced as a crop in the humid and sub-humid lowlands of Asia, Australia, Florida, Georgia, Texas, California, Mexico, Central and South America, the West Indies, and on several Pacific islands. The Invasive Species Compendium says its potential for invasiveness is high.

Sometimes the deceptive manipulation enabled by digital technology is verbal. Those wanting to make truth from their desires will state a goal as though it was a fact.

“If Freedom of Speech protects a teacher’s right to lead prayer in public schools,” one such post states, “then it also allows a teacher to say gay.”

Another friend posted a photo of a letter to an editor wherein the writer says, “Overturning Roe requires another law be passed that ensures men bear equal responsibility for pregnancies.”

As much as I agree with the idea a requirement for all pregnancies to be carried to term should demand equal responsibility from an active sperm donor, the reality is there is no such requirement under current law.

As much as I believe schools should be places where all sorts of issues are discussed freely, the law has not recognized that understanding to include teaching about families that don’t conform to Christian scripture.

Falsely attributed quotations, fake factoids, manipulated images, and just plain wishful thinking fill our common spaces. The more time we spend with our attention on the screen, the farther we get from our own direct experience.

To some eyes the bud of the Yulan magnolia, another well-circulated image I found in my online research ramblings, does look like a small bird, but the botanist understands the illusion.

When it is just an image designed to fool the eye, a faked-up picture can be a harmless amusement. But when our reliance on the hearsay of social media replaces discernment, we enter a realm of falsehood that separates us from any semblance of truth and discourages the possibility of conversations between living, breathing, humans with our multitude of perspectives and opinions.

There’s an old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The online searches that allowed me to clarify the difference between an imagined peacock flower and the real one, and to track the path that led to the false image, took a little less than an hour, rabbit holes and all. For me, it was fun. I like running down the paths of inquiry.

You might not want to spend a hot afternoon hunting for the truth behind a suspicious post, but before you share images and ideas that ring false, perhaps a moment outside, smelling and listening and seeing for yourself, can offer a suggestions as to how to frame the picture or introduced the idea.

See for yourself.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.