Fact check: How to verify photos that are circulating online

Mar 1, 2022, 10:11 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:55 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — It is called the fog of war  images and information that spreads quickly from the battlefield. And while it may have speed, it is not always accurate.

There are several tools journalists use to determine fact from fiction, and you can use them to verify the information you find online. 

The fastest access to the powerful images from the conflict in Ukraine is not found on the nightly news. The real speed is found on your smartphone: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok  all on the front lines of communication. However, it is also making truth watchdogs very nervous about the potential for misinformation. 

The non-profit journalist organization, Poynter, is warning reporters to be extra careful in confirming images actually are what they claim to depict. This, as examples emerge from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

The Associated Press said people are sharing images of a 2015 warehouse fire in China, claiming they depict the current conflict. And Reuters Fact Check debunks a photo of an injured girl that is currently making the rounds, saying it is from 2018 and was taken during the Syrian war, not Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as users claim. 

There are a handful of techniques that journalists use to verify an images veracity that anyone can use. 

Opening an image in a metadata viewer app can reveal all sorts of hidden information about that image including date, location by GPS coordinates, even camera settings used when the photo was taken. Google Image found this photo of a soldier firing a weapon has been used on scores of websites, including a message forum dating back to 2016.

Every time a picture is taken with a smart device, the image file is tucked full of hidden data. Using a metadata viewing software allows you to see all sorts of information about that image, including the date it was taken and GPS coordinates so you know where on earth it was taken. 

But perhaps the easiest and most important tool for debunking images is Google, or technically its offshoot, Google Images. 

Unlike Googles main search engine, Google Images shows a little camera icon. Click it and you can paste a URL to the image you want to verify, or you can upload a photo and Google will scour the ends of the Internet for other sites it has appeared on. 

Take, for example, a photo of a soldier firing a round. Could it have been taken recently in Ukraine? The answer is no. Google Images found the exact same photo on hundreds of websites, including a message board post from five years ago. 

Any journalist will tell you, if you did not see it with your own eyes, it can be tough to be 100% sure an image is real.  But these tools can help weed out images that are not real. 

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Fact check: How to verify photos that are circulating online