The Camera Never Lies? Fakes and Photoshop

Fake news story of a new species of bird. Picture shows a photoshopped tiger headed bird.

I am sure you spotted that the photograph above is a photoshopped fake, but according to a recent study at Warwick University, about a third of manipulated images go undetected by viewers.

Physical manipulation of images has been around since the invention of photography itself.  Take a look at this example from the early 20th Century; it looks convincing but the Library of Congress were able to work out that this is actually a composite of several images and does not really show General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point:

Modern digital technology has brought with it a plethora of photograph and video editing apps that are easily accessible and simple to use – at the touch of a button we are now able to crop, edit and filter the photographs we take.  While fun to use for entertainment and valuable for people such as designers and artists, tools such as these can be more problematic when they are used with the intention to deceive or manipulate.

For example, in March 2018 a photograph from Teen Vogue of Emma González, an American anti-gun activist, was photoshopped to show her tearing up the US Constitution with the presumed aim of promoting her views as unpatriotic:

Out of Context

Manipulated images are not the only problem.  Purposefully using a picture out of context can also mislead the intended audience.

In April 1934 a number of American newspapers, including the highly respected New York Times, published a photograph showing a man using a flying machine that worked using his lung power alone.  The incredible image depicts a man in mid-air wearing a device consisting of a box and two rotors while four other men run along below him.  Unfortunately, the newspapers had failed to check the original source of the image and fell afoul of a German magazine’s April fool’s joke.

While publishing a fake flying machine might be a fairly harmless, if embarrassing, mistake some images taken out of context like this can have more powerful consequences.

In July 2018 Time magazine used the cropped image of a young girl crying juxtaposed against a stern looking President Trump on their front page; the child was said to have been separated from her parents as part of Trump’s zero tolerance policy toward those crossing the border illegally from Mexico.    The original photograph, taken by Getty photographer John Moore, went viral, sparking a public outrage that led to the government ending the practice.  However, it was discovered that, on this occasion, the child had not been separated from her parents but was detained with her mother.

Both of these examples, highlight the importance of checking the source and confirming the context of an image before taking it at face value.

This can be true of videos too, take this example purporting to show U.S. President Donald Trump removing his hat and revealing that he’s bald:

You can see toward the end of the video, a slight glitch where the President’s hand seems to go through the top of his head, showing it to be an obvious fake but even if this wasn’t clear, the origin of the video would provide another hint that it’s not to be trusted – the video was created by Paul Lee Ticks, a Twitter user who frequently posts memes and digitally manipulated videos.

While some images and videos are obviously fake others can be more convincing and improvements in technology, particularly artificial intelligence, are making the fakes even more difficult to detect.  These more convincing images and videos are known as deepfakes and with the ability to make people appear to say things that they did not, they have the potential to cause serious damage.

Take a look at this TED talk by computer scientist Supasorn Suwajanakorn, who explains his work with AI and discusses both the creative and more negative ethical implications of the technology:

Spotting the Fakes 

With the creation of fake images and videos proliferating in journalism, politics and social media, it’s increasingly important to be vigilant.  While experts are developing tools to help fight against the more serious attempts at disinformation, we have some simple tricks you can use to help improve your fake image savvy too:

Top Three Ways to Spot a Fake

  1. Look for inconsistencies

Check the image for distorted backgrounds, missing or altered reflections and shadows, and missing features that you would expect to see.  Keep an eye out for any obviously repeated patterns and be wary of lower quality or blurred images.

  1. Try a reverse image search

Use a reverse image search on Google to track the image, see if it has been circulated before, locate the original source or maybe even find if the story around the image has already been debunked.

  1. Check the metadata

Sometimes it is possible to look at an image’s metadata, that is, data about the image such as what time and date it was taken, which camera was used and if it has been saved in Photoshop.  This is called the EXIF data.  There are various websites and apps where you can upload an image to check it’s metadata but it’s simple to find out some key information using Windows too: right click on an image, go to properties then details.  Unfortunately, not all images will have metadata as some popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter will remove it to protect user privacy.

Now you’re armed with these top tips why not take a look at the test the University of Warwick used in the study mentioned at the beginning of the blog.  How many fakes can you spot?

Sources:

Boese, A. (no date) Man Flies By Own Lung Power. Available at:  http://hoaxes.org/af_database/permalink/man_flies_by_own_lung_power (Accessed: 22 March 2019)

Brightside (no date) 10 Tips to Spot a Fake Image and Not Let Photoshoppers Fool You. Available at: https://brightside.me/wonder-curiosities/10-tips-to-spot-a-fake-image-and-not-let-photoshoppers-fool-you-469660/ (Accessed 22 March 2019)

Evon, D. (2019) ‘Is This a Video of President Trump Without His Toupee?’, Snopes, 12 March.  Available at: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/trump-toupee-video-fake/ (Accessed 22 March 2019)

Farid, H. (2019)’Don’t be fooled by fake images and videos online’, The Conversation, 20 February.  Available at: https://theconversation.com/dont-be-fooled-by-fake-images-and-videos-online-111873 (Accessed 25 March 2019)

Kirby, J. (2018 ) ‘Time’s crying girl photo controversy, explained’, Vox, 22 June. Available at: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/6/22/17494688/time-magazine-cover-crying-girl-photo-controversy-family-separation (Accessed: 22 March 2019)

Library of Congress (2008) Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints.  Available at: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/mystery.html (Accessed: 22 March 2019)

Mikkelson, D (2018) ‘Was Emma González Filmed Ripping Up the U.S. Constitution?’, Snopes, 25 March.  Available at: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/emma-gonzalez-ripping-up-constitution/ (Accessed 22 March 2019)

O’Sullivan, D. (2019) ‘When seeing is no longer believing: Inside the Pentagon’s race against deepfake videos’, CNN Business, no date. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2019/01/business/pentagons-race-against-deepfakes/ (Accessed: 22 March 2019)

Smith, B. (2018) ‘Fake news, hoax images: How to spot a digitally altered photo from the real deal’, ABC News, 24 July.  Available at:  https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-02-11/fake-news-hoax-images-digitally-altered-photos-photoshop/9405776 (Accessed: 25 March 2019)

TED (2018) Fake videos of real people — and how to spot them | Supasorn Suwajanakorn. Available at: https://youtu.be/o2DDU4g0PRo (Accessed 28 March 2019)

University of Warwick (2017) One third of fake images go undetected in recent study [Press release] 18 July. Available at:  https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/one_third_of/ (Accessed: 22 March 2019)

Vick, K. (2018) ‘A Reckoning After Trump’s Border Separation Policy: What Kind of Country Are We?’ The Times, 21 June. Available at:  http://time.com/5318229/donald-trump-border-separation-policy/ (Accessed: 22 March 2019)

Bubbles and echos: are you surrounding yourself with fake news?

Librarians have been warning people about ‘Fake News’ for many, many, many, many years – how to find and select reliable, authoritative, quality resources is at the heart of any good library teaching session.  In a way we librarians have to thank Mr Trump for making Fake News a popular term; he has made everyone aware that there are fake stories out there and that there has been for centuries (see our historical time-line of Fake News).

2019 is NU Library’s third year of promoting awareness of Fake News, and by looking at the large number of visits to our Fake News Guide over these three years (4,672 visits in total), and again thanks to Mr Trump, it’s not something that’s going away anytime soon.  So we Librarians will continue our quest of highlighting all information that is fake for the greater good.

Until I went to Librarian’s Fake News conference last year, I hadn’t heard of the terms ‘Filter Bubble’ and ‘Echo Chambers’ in relation to Fake News.  However, once explained hopefully it will make you more aware of what information/news stories you read via the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter, and how they could potentially be fake.  So here is the low-down on what these terms mean and how you can avoid falling into their traps; we’ve also offered the alternative view that they’re a load of old nonsense so you can decide for yourselves…

What is a ‘Filter Bubble’?

A Filter Bubble is when you are in a virtual bubble on social media – you only encounter information and opinions that agree with or reinforce your own beliefs.  Your ‘personalised’ online experience is the result of algorithms that work away in the background and dictate what you see/read online. Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Netflix, YouTube and many more all do this.

These Filter Bubbles in turn create Echo Chambers…

What are ‘Echo Chambers’?

When information within a closed system online is only giving you (‘echoing’) back your opinion and beliefs and establishing confirmation bias (only accepting information that confirm your own opinion and beliefs).

What are the dangers?

As much as I enjoy Facebook fuelling my love of funny dog videos by suggesting similar videos and articles, being aware of why and how Facebook is doing this helps when it comes to more serious topics such as the news, social issues and politics.

Regarding Fake News, confirmation bias is particularly worrying as you will start believing fake news stories that confirms your opinions and beliefs. I know I have done this, which is really scary to realise.

Watch this short TedTalks video from Eli Pariser on the dangers of Filter Bubbles:

You could argue that this type of ‘personalisation’ is editing the web – only showing you one half of the story.  So what can you do to pop the bubble?

What can you do to stop the bubbles and echoes?

There are a few simple things you can do to stop this and open yourselves up to a wider web:

  • Read news sites, websites and blogs that offer a wide range of perspectives, such as the BBC.
  • Use Incognito browsing, delete search histories and try and resist the temptation of logging into your accounts every time you go online.
  • Deleting or blocking browser cookies – these cookies hold the algorithms that determine what we see.
  • Turn off your curated feed in Facebook.
  • Click ‘Like’ on everything! – This will tell the AI that you are into everything – all politics, all news etc.
  • Don’t clink on links, especially politics and social issues – will stop fuelling the algorithms.
  • Tell everyone else to turn off their curated feed!

Is it all a myth?

Below are a few articles that claim Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers are myths and that it’s not the technology at fault, but rather the user. I’ll let you decide:

Dubois, E. and Blank, G. (2018) The myth of the echo chamber. Available at: https://theconversation.com/the-myth-of-the-echo-chamber-92544. (Accessed: 27 March 2019).

Robson, D. (2018) The myth of the online echo chamber. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180416-the-myth-of-the-online-echo-chamber. (Accessed: 27 March 2019).

Schwab, P. (2017) Academic research debunks the myth of filter bubbles. Available at: https://www.intotheminds.com/blog/en/academic-research-debunks-the-myth-of-filter-bubbles/. (Accessed: 27 March 2019).

Don’t burst my bubble!

Or maybe you like being in your own little bubble? The safety and comfort in knowing what information you are going to be presented with – nothing that offends or upsets your online world. I know I will carry on being fed humorous dog videos.

There are some interesting thoughts and opinions on the Social Network Bubble – the pros and cons – on this Radio 4 programme:

BBC Radio 4 (2017) Bursting the social network bubble. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083p4lw. (Accessed: 27 March 2019).

References:

BBC Radio 4 (2017) Fave ways to burst your social media bubble. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3n9yf0D5WxRZJGclBMtFGwK/five-ways-to-burst-your-social-media-bubble. (Accessed: 27 March 2019).

Farnam Street (2017) How filter bubbles distort reality: everything you need to know. Available at: https://fs.blog/2017/07/filter-bubbles/. (Accessed: 27 March 2019).

Grimes, D. (2017) Echo chambers are dangerous – we must try to break free of our online bubbles. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/dec/04/echo-chambers-are-dangerous-we-must-try-to-break-free-of-our-online-bubbles. (Accessed: 27 March 2019).

Are you using the best information to make your point?

With the huge volume of information available and the speed with which you can find something on just about any topic with a simple search, it can be difficult to be sure that you are using the best quality information for your task. Your tutors will often give advice such as recommending that you use academic or peer-reviewed journal articles, and it can be tempting to stick to ‘safe’ types of information such as books.

But depending on your assignment topic, you will need to explore a breadth of different information types, including many that will be online. So how do you know which ones to you?

You will need to consider many issues, including authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency and coverage within an information source. This will help you make decisions about the quality of the information, its reliability and what role it could play within your thinking.

You will evaluate information all the time without thinking about it. It doesn’t need to be a conscious or difficult task. Our Six Questions video will help give you some ideas for the types of questions to keep in mind to make your own judgement.

You may also sometimes decide to include a piece of information, even though it may not be from a credible source or its impartiality is questionable, because it illustrates the point you are trying to make. Being aware of your reservations about a reference allows you to be more confident in your judgment.

Find out more on our Evaluating Information guide …

How to be a Fake News Ninja

As a University student it is imperative that you arm yourself against the barrage of fake news that can be found in today’s media.  To produce academically sound assignments and research, you need to be able identify and evaluate information quickly and with authority.

Here are 10 tips on how you can be a Fake News Ninja:

  1. Be aware: just simply knowing that not all information is created equal is the first step.
  2. Check the source: Where did the information come from? This can be tricky, especially on social media.
  3. Read more: don’t just rely on the piece of information that’s in front of you… go an find another reliable source and see if the facts are the same.
  4. Check the author: Do a bit of Google stalking to see if the author is credible.
  5. Check the references: does the item have references? What sources have they used? Are they credible?
  6. Check the date: watch out for re-posts old news items.
  7.  Check your biases: You own beliefs and prejudices can have an affect on how you accept information.
  8. Is it a joke?: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  9. Ask a Librarian: Librarians are the original Fake News Ninjas.  Come and ask us about any reference that you aren’t too sure about and we can help you make an authoritative decision on  the information you use for your research.
  10. Knowledge is power: Read more about Fake News and how you can win the fight. Everything you need to know is in our Fake News Guide.

Read our other blogs on Fake News to be aware of the consequences of Fake News and the history and growth of Fake News.

References
IFLA (2018) How to spot fake news. Available at: https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174 (Accessed: 23 March 18)

The consequences of Fake News

A scan of some of our “Fake or Fact?” stories this week might raise a few smiles, but as we’ve seen increasingly over the past couple of years, Fake News can have far-reaching consequences.
Hands up, who’s had the awkwardness of friends or family members reposting dubious material on Facebook? If so, you’re not alone. Apparently, according to a MIT study published this year, based on three years’ worth of Twitter meta-analysis, fake news travels up to six times faster than genuine stories. False stories were up to 70% more likely to receive a retweet – often due the novelty or shock factor.

In the sphere of politics, this can have worrying consequences. The U.S. election in late 2016 coined the term for us and is a particularly rich source of Fake news and political spin. Business Insider lists some of the most influential fake news stories to surface during this time; from false claims that WikiLeaks had proof of Clinton arms deals with ISIS, to a fictional Papal endorsement of Trump, said to have received nearly a million hits on Facebook. Only this month, the Jakarta Post reported on concerns of Fake News polluting the build-up to the Indonesian Presidential Elections next year as Facebook groups flood the country’s web spaces with doctored videos; something that has previous lead to protests in the streets of the capital.

And even when we know we might be dealing with dubious information, Fake News can continue to wield influence. Newcastle University’s own Dr. Gavin Stewart, a meta-analysis expert explains “claims with no scientific proof cast doubt over those with overwhelming evidence, leaving us at the best confused and in the worst case making totally the wrong decision.”

A strong example can be found in the now discredited research of Andrew Wakefield. Back in 1998, Wakefield drew unsubstantiated links between the MMR vaccination and childhood autism. Despite the widespread exposure of the fraudulent claims and rebuttals from the medical community, vaccination rates of the MMR vaccine dropped, and last year saw a 400% increase of measles cases across Europe.

So what does this mean for you as a current student?
The National Literacy Trust has been conducting research into pupils’ critical skills, and worryingly, has found that 35% of teachers in the UK taught pupils citing fake news and satire as legitimate sources. A fifth of pupils between 8 and 15 believe that everything found online is trustworthy and true. The antidote to this is building on one of your core graduate attributes and competencies – critical thinking. Always check out stories you’ve found online before using them in your work. Who have they come from, how partisan is that group or author? Is the material satire? What does the author stand to gain? Employers in all industries are looking for graduate with sharp reasoning skills and sound judgement. As students producing work in the current “post-truth” climate, your job is a little tougher, but you can turn this to your advantage by proving you have the skills and the smarts to outwit the Fake News racketeers.

Read our other blogs on Fake News to learn about the history and growth of Fake News and how you can become a Fake News Ninja.

References
1. Vosoughi, Roy and Aral, (2018). “The spread of true and false news online.” Science, 359: 6380, pp. 1146-1151.
2. Roberts (2016) “This is what fake news actually looks like — we ranked 11 election stories that went viral on Facebook.” Business Insider UK. November 17th
http://uk.businessinsider.com/fake-presidential-election-news-viral-facebook-trump-clinton-2016-11/#5-hillary-clinton-sold-weapons-to-isis-and-it-was-confirmed-by-wikileaks-7)
3. Pearl (2018). “Indonesia battels fake news as elections looms” Jakarta Post. 15th March http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/03/15/indonesia-battles-fake-news-as-elections-loom.html
4. Newcastle university (2018) “Filtering out Fake News” 7th March. http://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/latest/2018/03/fakenews/
5. Houston, (2018) “Measles back with a vengeance due to fake health news” The Irish Times. Feb 23rd. https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/measles-back-with-a-vengeance-due-to-fake-health-news-1.3401960
6. National Literacy Trust (2018). “Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools” https://literacytrust.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/all-party-parliamentary-group-literacy/fakenews/

History and growth of Fake News

Fake News is nothing new and has been going on since time began!

Have at look at our timeline on our Fake News Guide for a snapshot of how Fake News has shaped history:

With the introduction of mass news with the invention of the printing press, and the massive up-rise in news being created and fed via social media, the growth of the term ‘Fake News’ and the actual production of Fake News stories has grown exponentially in recent years:

  • The term ‘Fake News’ is searched for in web browsers 70.8-118 thousand times a month.
  • #fakenews has over 251.2k mentions on Twitter
  • In 2017 Donald Trump mentioned the term ‘Fake News’ in public correspondence, 320 times!

Not only has the volume of Fake News grown, but also the speed that it spreads.  However, maybe there is a way we can slow it down:

Read our other blogs on Fake News to be aware of the consequences of Fake News and how you can become a Fake News Ninja.

References
Kiely, E. (2018) Trump’s Phony ‘Fake News’ Claims. Available at: https://www.factcheck.org/2018/01/trumps-phony-fake-news-claims/. Accessed: 23 March 2018).
Smith, R. (2017) The Numbers Behind Fake News. Available at: http://www.dailyinfographic.com/numbers-behind-fake-news. (Accessed: 23 March 2018).