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Flags line the National Mall towards the Washington Monument as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Flags line the National Mall towards the Washington Monument as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Flags line the National Mall towards the Washington Monument as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke January 20, 2021

Hundreds of thousands of Americans ordinarily attend a presidential inauguration but tickets weren’t available to the public this year due to the coronavirus. 

In lieu of the crowds that in years past have gathered on the National Mall, the Presidential Inaugural Committee installed a public art display of about 191,500 flags, including American flags and flags from every state and territory.

The "Field of Flags," as it’s called, "will represent the American people who are unable to travel to Washington," the committee said in a statement.

Close-up photos of the display show rows of American flags and rows of state flags. In this photo, there are about a dozen rows of just the Arizona state flag, for example.

The effect is such that from a distance, the rows of flags look like big blocks of colors so that the Mall appears striped with the colors yellow, red, blue, white, and orange. 

As images of the display have spread on social media, so have descriptions of the flags that could leave readers with a misleading impression different than reality. 

A screenshot of one tweet said, "Biden and his crew couldn’t get real people to come to the inauguration so they planted flags to ensure it wouldn’t look so empty. 

And the headline blog post with a photo of the flags illuminated at night asks: "Why is the National Mall decorated with the Russian flag ahead of Biden’s inauguration?" Needless to say, the Mall wasn’t decorated with a Russian flag.

These posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

In the photo, looking down the Mall at the National Monument, the flags appear in stripes of color. 

In one section, there are white, blue and red stripes. While that may resemble the Russian flag from one vantage point, other parts of the display could resemble the red, white and blue French or the red and white Indonesian flag. But the "field of flags" erected in the middle of the U.S. capital city in celebration of the inauguration of the nation’s 46th president is not for these countries; it represents the 50 states, Washington D.C. and the United State’s five permanently inhabited territories, the New York Times reported on Jan. 19.

These flags were illuminated on Jan. 19 and they will be illuminated again on the evening of Jan. 20.

 
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Our Sources

The New York Times, Biden’s inauguration: What you need to know, Jan. 20, 2021

Presidential Inaugural Committee, Presidential Inaugural Committee announces ‘America United’ as inaugural theme, Jan. 11, 2021 

The New York Times, ‘Field of Flags’ on the National Mall represents the people who cannot attend the inauguration, Jan. 19, 2021

Facebook post, Jan. 19, 2021

Albawaba, Why is the National Mall decorated with the Russian flag ahead of Biden’s inauguration? Jan. 20, 2021

WJLA, Field of Flags, Jan. 19, 2021

Britannica, Flag of Russia, visited Jan. 20, 2021 

The Washington Post, Inaugural ‘field of flags’ on the Mall seen from space, Jan. 20, 2021

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