Tips to authenticate an image found on the Web

Army deployed in the Montréal area to enforce health rules. Italian doctors at the bedside of COVID-19 patients die in a hospital. Fake body bags used to make people believe the SARS-CoV-2 virus is deadly. 

These photos and videos linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have circulated widely on the Web and social media. But they were taken during past events and have nothing to do with the fake news accompanying them. 

How can you avoid sharing misleading images? Here are some tips to verify their authenticity 

“We don’t want to know it. We want to see it!”, humorist Yvon Deschamps said in the 1970s. Today, that’s truer than ever. The virtual universe is full of photos and videos. And for good reason: they generate more clicks.  

So be on your guard when you stumble on an image that’s out of the ordinary, especially if it comes with shocking explanations that aren’t picked up by reliable media.  

As in the case of any information that appeals to strong emotions, it’s a good idea to search fact-checking websites to see if it has been verified by a journalist. Your suspicious image may already have been flagged. 

Otherwise, you can …. 

  1. Examine the image carefully 

Take a minute to examine it closely. Is there a problem with the proportions, a suspicious shadow or an incongruity? Does the weather report for that day match the season when the photo or video was supposedly taken? Are the protagonists wearing appropriate clothing for that time of year? 

  1. Look for details concerning the image 

Try to learn more about the origin of this suspicious visual. Is there a credit indicating the photographer or videographer? Does this person work for a known medium or press agency, or did a citizen take this visual and send it to a medium that verified it? A trusted website explains where and when the visuals were produced and indicates if they were verified. If this information can’t be found on the website, be suspicious. 

Take time to read the comments under the photo or video. Maybe a Web user shared interesting information. The author may also turn up.  

Finally, you must also consider the website or social media account that relays the image. Is it trying to inform you or influence you? Take a look at the content it usually publishes to clarify.  

  1. Run a reverse search  

One common tactic is to give existing images a completely different context. To verify if the image has been published in the past, run a reverse search with a tool like Google ImagesTineye or even Amnesty International’s Citizen Evidence Lab platform, specially designed for videos. The results will show if the suspicious video was published previously in another context.  

The easiest way to proceed is to drag the suspicious image from a browser window to another window in which Google Images or Tineye is open. You can also run a search based on the URL address of the photo or the video. To find it, simply right-click with the mouse and select “Copy Image Address”. 

These tools won’t be found on every occurrence. If the image has been altered, the search is likely to be laborious.  

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