A critical tool you should use during times of civil unrest: image search, to verify viral photos on social media


“Anyone who has ever asked me for tips on content verification and debunking of fakes knows one of the first things I always mention is reverse image search. It’s one of the simplest and most powerful tools at your disposal.

This week provided another good example of how overlooked it is.” Eoghan mac Suibhne [@buileshuibhne] writing at Medium, with some great examples. Not just for journalists, but for everyone tuning in to the feeds from Baltimore (and New York, and Ferguson, and on and on) and sharing what moves you. Amplify truth.

The point, of course, is not whether these things happened or not. The point is that the tweets were not portraying what they purported to be. Worse, they used photos of real people and connected them to these acts. Tineye and Google image search provide browser add-ons, meaning these kinds of checks can be performed in seconds. Cultivate the habit — increased credibility is only a right-click away.

"Baltimore ‘looting’ tweets show importance of quick and easy image checks" [Medium]

Notable Replies

  1. Well, I'd guess both. Disaffected teens lashing out for the former, and white supremacists trying to reinforce their brand for the latter.

    The first time I looked on youtube for Baltimore footage (because I was too lazy to drive 30 minutes and see it live) the top-trending stuff was obviously being posted by white supremacists. The titles of the videos were pretty obviously racist.

  2. Rumsfeld on Baltimore: "Looting is Transition to Freedom"

    Nope! Baghdad, 2003

  3. Some are created and/or forwarded by idiots who may actually believe them. For example, the countless people on Facebook who forwarded these images purporting to show the "real" Trayvon Martin:

    The problem in that case is that someone just searched Facebook for people named "Trayvon Martin" and apparently decided that the thuggiest looking example they could find must be the "real" photo of the kid who had been killed. Because everyone knows mainstream media is biased and there was no way that George Zimmerman would really murder a scrawny little teen who hadn't done anything wrong and didn't pose a physical threat.

    What really frustrates me is that even when I correct the Facebook friends who forward this junk they're likely to forget that they'd been had and re-post exactly the same thing a couple of weeks or months later. It's hard to get people to let go of an idea they want to believe.

  4. Yeah, it seems like every time a young black man gets gunned down one of the first responses is a bunch of idiots on Facebook posting pictures of a completely different young black man posing in a threatening way as proof of how violent the dead guy really was. Most of the time they don't even resemble the deceased except in a general "those guys all look the same" kind of way.

  5. I prefer the Who stole my pictures? plugin for Firefox. It searches Yandex.ru, Tineye, Google and Bing (though I've found that Google seems to yield the best results these days). Tineye has generally let me down most of the time.

    Think of it like a "reverse phone number look up" - normally, you have a name and you're looking for a phone number. A reverse number search is when you have the number and you want to find the name associated with it. Similarly, a normal Google image search is when you have a search term, and want to find an image that matches that search term. A reverse image search is when you already have the image, and you want to find its original source.

    Oh, and @xeni:


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