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Questionable and False Flags

Last modified: 2023-03-04 by rob raeside
Keywords: false flags |
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Discussion Generated by the Watkins Glen Raceway Flag

A flag purporting to be that of the Village of Watkins Glen, New York was provided to FOTW without any official or photographic confirmation. The image was traced to a Redbubble sticker and is for a racetrack, not the Village of Watkins Glen.
Masao Okazaki, 26 February 2023

The person who reported that new "2020 seal and flag", had a long history of creating false or questionable information regarding municipal and county flags, providing almost no evidence to them whatsoever. For example, he portrayed the flag of Fairmont, West Virginia as being the city logo on a white field. This is not the case. Or how he "found" a flag of Bancroft, WV. When I spoke with the town on their Facebook, they stated they had no such flag. Another one was for Kingwood, West Virginia. I was a resident of the community for sometime, but I had never seen any "Kingwood city flag". When I pointed this out on the image comment section, he simply added "Unofficial" to the title. I questioned him about this to which he claimed that somebody from West Virginia reported them to him.
David Zigler
, 26 February 2023

     I've never had the idea that there is such a thing as conscious falsification in vexillology, which perhaps was a bit too naive. What can we do? One measure could be that we ask back consequently if flag images without photographical or other documentary proof are sent to us (although we know that also photos can be faked). In general, we can train an awareness with which we try to recognize strange submissions. But this is all quite subjective and there is no guarantee for a full protection. But the first important thing is to be aware that there are flag fakers out there. I think first trying to reconfirm them from other sources or denoting them by pointing out that the content is doubtful and needs confirmation would help to inform people who browse the net for new flags.
Martin Karner, 26 February 2023

     The sticky part of this is the other side of the coin, bureaucratic ignorance. I remember one example where a city flag was reported but when I called up the city government in question and asked them if they had a flag, I was informed emphatically they did not. I happened to live nearby and decided to visit the city hall. There I was again informed that they did not have a flag. So, I asked the individual I was talking to what was the flag they were flying on the pole outside. He gave me a confused look and we walked outside the building and low-and-behold, the non-existing city flag that had been reported was flying there.
     The point is, many people are not aware of flags, their use, or pay attention to them. Also, many flags exist that were once legally purchased and used by city governments but forgotten when leadership changed. More to the point, sometimes a city flag is placed on a flagpole in a meeting hall and used for years. Nobody really pays any attention to it as it hangs there. Although it was purchased years ago it was never made official, but has basically become the de facto city flag. In government, flags are used and discarded, changed, and replaced many times without anybody really paying attention or making any official design specifications. So which ones do we include in our flag database - only officially recognized ones? The general guideline we have used is if the exists physically (is real), is not just a web graphic, vaporware-flag, or just from somebody's imagination, it can be included. The problem is that once a flag is manufactured and sold commercially, they exist in the real world whether "officially recognized" or not.
     This is not to say I think the contributions described above are real; most likely they are not. There are many examples of what I call "vaporware-flags" out there that only exist in someone's imagination, or as drawings on the internet. Quite a conundrum, isn't it?
Pete Loeser, 26 February 2023

     For short, there are official flags in drawers and unofficial flags flying in the wind. There are also made-up flags, like that of the Dubious flag of St. Martin, which end up being real and sold in tourist stalls.
     Myself, I believed for a long time, in a typically Swiss vision, that any coat of arms automatically corresponded to a flag, which led me, without any intention of deceiving anyone, to draw a banner of French Guiana in 1996 which was then reused on the internet. I was simply not aware of the vexillological rules and I admit that they are still not always very clear to me. I believe that this misunderstanding is often at the origin of these cases of fanciful drawn flags. However, I distinguish it from the deliberate desire to deceive out of a taste for hoaxing.
     Consequently, I think there is also the question of the legitimacy of the creator of the flag. In some countries there is no national vexillological society, or there are some but they are not empowered to impose the official character of a flag used by an administrative body of the country, having at most a role of technical advice. If we take the example of the French departments, the known drawings of Robert Louis were shown for several decades in vexillology works when they did not exist and practically none were official until some were formalized from the 1990s, internet having greatly contributed to the dissemination and need for representation of visual identity. But in fact for most departments, the only official flags are those representing the modern logo. The other flags, such as the Norman flag that you can see at Mont-Saint-Michel, belong to the non-official "cultural" sphere. The fact that Robert Louis had designed for the use of official postage stamps the traditional coat of arms of large French cities and of the (cultural) former provinces, did not provide legitimacy for the (official) departmental flags for which he had not had an order from state bodies.
     Don't you think that, like the codification for the shape of flags or for their use (military, merchant, naval, cultural, etc.), codes could be created for their status? For example: official not used, official used, usual, fictitious, confirmed (re-approved), modified, etc.
Jean-Marc Merklin, 26 February 2023

Robert Louis' proposals for the French departments

     Do you think that FOTW should document Robert Louis' proposals for the French departments? My opinion is yes, similar to the example of e.g. Norway. The presentation on FOTW could help to make them official one day, but for this purpose it's important to denote them clearly as unofficial. So every visitor of such a page, maybe a citizen from a certain department, will see there the flag proposal (which may be quite attractive) and ask why on earth this flag is still unofficial, and he starts a communication with the local authorities to get an official flag.
     Your idea for a codification of the flag status makes sense for me. That would be an opportunity to place this info together with the flag use and the ratio, which we only have to a limited extent on our pages. Perhaps a giffer could create a small tabular box of a uniform appearance which we could place easily next to the flag images and fill in the data.
Martin Karner, 27 February 2023

     Some designs by Robert Louis are already in use, whether they are official or not, and are presented as such at the FOTW-ws. In some cases, the designs by others (including Mireille Louis, Robert's daughter) were officially adopted while in others, nothing was officially adopted yet, sometimes other proposals existing along with those by Louis. A good overview can be found here. Another good source is the late Pascal Vagnat's site, although some information might be outdated by now.
     Of course, care should be taken to review all the designs and include those which are still not included, despite being used. About the others, I am not so sure, but maybe we can add them as the proposals, considering that they have achieved a wide online presence.
     Regarding the codes, I think that the simple distinction between official and unofficial designs (marked with an exclamation mark in the file name for the latter) may be enough for now.
Tomislav Todorovic, 28 February 2023

     I cited Robert Louis as an example to illustrate that the boundaries of a flag's official character are sometimes not clearly defined in the literature, sometimes it is even not known, especially in the Americas, when and in which circumstances it has been created . There are other examples. Unless I am mistaken, I don't believe that there was a contract between the ATS and W. Smith for the Antarctican flag. Concerning R. Louis, I leave the floor to others (Olivier Touzeau, Pascal Gross, ...) who know the subject better than me, but it seems to me that indeed it is necessary to specify each time that the flag proposed on his own initiative was not adopted.
Jean-Marc Merklin, 28 February 2023