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Man threatens to sue magazine for using his photo in article about hipsters looking alike, before realising it isn't him

Angry reader accused magazine of 'slander' after mistakenly recognising himself in stock image

Chris Baynes
Friday 08 March 2019 17:19 GMT
An MIT Technology Review reader mistakenly recognised himself in this stock photo
An MIT Technology Review reader mistakenly recognised himself in this stock photo (Getty Images)

A man threatened to sue a magazine for using his picture in an article about hipsters looking alike, only to learn the photo was of someone else who closely resembled him.

MIT Technology Review published a story about a mathematical study which purports to explain “why anti-conformists always end up looking the same”.

One reader was furious to recognise himself – sporting a beard and beanie hat – in an image illustrating the piece, and quickly fired off an email accusing the publication of “slander” and breach of copyright.

The magazine had licensed the stock photo from Getty Images, and set about investigating what had happened.

Editor Gideon Lichfield said: “As far as I know, calling someone a hipster isn’t slander, no matter how much they may hate it. Still, we would never use a picture without the proper license or model release. So we checked the license.

“Getty looked in their archive for the model release. And came back to us with the surprising news: the model’s name wasn’t the name of our angry hipster-hater.”

He added: “In other words, the guy who’d threatened to sue us for misusing his image wasn’t the one in the photo. He’d misidentified himself. All of which just proves the story we ran: hipsters look so much alike that they can’t even tell themselves apart from each other.”

The magazine’s article was about research into the ”hipster effect” by Jonathan Touboul, a mathematics and neuroscience professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

Prof Touboul created a computer model which simulated the behaviour of conformists and non-confirmists in society, in a bid to explain why people who reject mainstream styles often end up looking similar to each other.

He found that, in rejecting trends, non-conformists they tend to "consistently make the same choice", meaning they "they will switch all together to another state where they remain alike".

The study could have implications far beyond fashion, according to Prof Touboul, who said his findings could help to understanding the synchronisation of nerve cells, investment strategies in finance, and emergent dynamics in social science.

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