Fake New York subway ad featuring Jordan Neely spreads online

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

Social media users are claiming the New York City subway displayed a poster using a photo of Jordan Neely, a homeless man who died after he was restrained in a chokehold by a fellow rider in May 2023, to warn passengers against misbehaving. This is false; the photo has been digitally altered, and the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) told AFP no such ad exists.

"What to you think of NYC’s new add campaign?" says a May 13, 2022 tweet from Jake Shields, a former mixed martial artist.

Screenshot from Twitter taken May 23, 2023

Another tweet adds: "They are celebrating this man's death as a victory. Never forgive. Never forget."

The tweets -- and other similar posts across social media -- show what appears to be an MTA-approved subway train poster featuring a still image of Marine veteran Daniel Penny wrapping his arm around Neely's neck, using part of a video captured in a May 1, 2023 incident that led to Neely's death.

"This could be you," the text on the supposed advertisement reads. "Quit fucking around on the NYC subway."

The ordeal was captured on video and drew heavy attention because Neely was Black and Penny is white -- and also because it shined a light on various issues facing America's biggest city, including mental illness among those living on the city's streets and residents' fears for their safety on the underground.

Witnesses said the incident came after Neely, 30, was screaming at passengers for food and drink and said he was willing to die.

Penny, charged with manslaughter in the second degree and released on bail, told the New York Post restraining Neely was not about race and that he is not a white supremacist. Republicans such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have rallied behind him, with a legal defense fund raising more than $2.7 million on a website popular with far-right figures and previously used to fundraise for US Capitol rioters.

But the purported advertising campaign is fake, the MTA confirmed.

"This is not an item that has appeared in the MTA transportation network, nor has it been authorized to be displayed by the MTA," spokesperson Michael Cortez said in a May 23 statement to AFP. "If an MTA employee were to observe it, it would be rapidly removed."

The fabricated poster appears to be a digitally manipulated version of a real advertisement that appeared on the subway years ago.

A reverse image search reveals the original photo, which photographer Danny Ghitis took for the New York Times in 2015 (archived here), showed a sign advocating for HIV prevention and safe sex.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about Neely's death here.

May 23, 2023 This article was updated to correct the spelling of Daniel Penny's surname in the fourth, sixth and eighth paragraphs.