A picture paints a thousand words….but it isn’t always the truth

Before the Internet, it was common for photos and videos to be accepted as almost bulletproof evidence of what we were witnessing in those images.  However, thanks to social media filters and photoshopping, images are not necessarily representative of the truth. Some images are doctored to remove small imperfections and make the subjects more attractive.  Others are changed in more obvious ways – or used completely out of context – to mislead us about celebrities, politics, the environment and other issues.  Misleading photos look set to be a part of our online lives for the foreseeable future and it’s useful for you and your child to know how to spot them.  Help your child brush up on their fact-checking skills with the following tips!

Check for signs that the photo may not be what it seems

Using images to spread misinformation does not always require high-end editing software. Sometimes, simply sharing an image out of context can deceive thousands of people. For example, a photo of Liverpool fans celebrating after their 2005 Champions League victory was used to falsely claim that the “whole of London” attended right-wing demonstrations in 2018.  To find out where a photo originally came from, use Google Images to ‘reverse search’ it. 
  • Click or tap on the photo you want to search and copy its address/URL
  • Go to Google Images, and click or tap on the camera icon in the search bar
  • Paste the address/URL into the box and click or tap “search by image”
Several other search engines specialise in spotting out-of-context or fake images, such as TinEye

Look for signs the image is edited

Highly edited images are widespread across the Internet, which can make it difficult to spot misleading images.  However, there are a few ways of identifying these images. Here are a few questions to ask:
  • Is it a poor-quality image? Does the photo or text within it seem fuzzy? Misleading photos often appear less sharp because they have been copied and manipulated.
  • Look at any text carefully. Are there spelling or grammatical mistakes? Does the font or writing style look odd? This can indicate that the text was superimposed on the image.
  • Can you see any unexplained shadows or reflections in the photo? This suggests that an item or person in the original image has been removed using photo-editing software. For example, it might appear that a celebrity isn’t wearing a wedding ring, but we can see its reflection in the photo.
  • Does an item in the photo look strangely sized or placed? For example, a badge on someone’s lapel could be placed oddly or look too big. 

Check if a person could have been misidentified

Although it’s a more subtle form of misinformation, misidentified people is a common trend online.  Reverse image searching can help to confirm if people in the photo have been misidentified, but you should also check with credible news sources.  

Check if it’s a meme or a joke

In order to identify fake or misleading photos, it helps to be familiar with the ways people communicate and express humour online.  If you see a photo that you suspect is fake, check where it came from. Is the website or page it was published on known for satire or parody? Is the photo used in memes a lot? 

Think carefully before sharing

Online tools like reverse image searches can really help to identify fake images. However, common sense plays a key role too. Before deciding to share an image, ask yourself:
  • Does this image confirm my own biases about an issue or a person?
  • Do I believe it simply because it reflects my own worldview?
  • Are reputable media outlets using or reporting on this image as well?
  • Do details in the picture fit the description? The description might say it’s a protest, but do people look like they are celebrating or praying?
  • What do the comments underneath say? Another user might already have debunked it.

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