Manipulated photos through photoshop or by other apps to change the information they convey is very common. It’s often used to manipulate the viewer and promote a particular agenda. Photo manipulation is the easiest way to fake news, but also the simplest to expose.

You’ve probably seen thousands of manipulated photographs in your lifetime without you knowing it. From advertisements to political campaigns, altered and faked images surround us every day. Restaurants make their food look more appetizing, magazines make their models skinnier and blemish-free, and colleges and politicians splice people into photographs to make their students and crowds look more diverse.  

In political campaigns especially, faked images show up again and again under different techniques. Two common techniques of photo manipulation are often practiced: The first is editing photos in special programs, such as Adobe Photoshop. The second is presenting real photos as having been taken at another time or place. In both caes, they affect our memory and voting behavior. Images are actually really good at fooling our memories for a number of reasons, a big part of it is because people trust photographs.

Example of manipulated photos:

This picture has been retweeted and liked tens of thousands of times. It depicts a very serious Putin surrounded by other world leaders, all staring at him as if focused on what he is saying. It is fake. The original one can be found through reverse research on a Turkish Website

Example of showing real photos, but done at another time or in another place or for another purpose

Russian cosmonauts were seen wearing Ukrainian colors

The photograph is real, however, this appears to be more of a coincidence than a political display. These spacesuits were chosen months before Russia’s attack on Ukraine in early 2022.

In February 2022, in the days after Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, people around the world expressed support for Ukraine by donning the colors blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. So when a photograph started to circulate in March 2022 showing Russian cosmonauts wearing these colors, many people assumed that they were voicing their opposition to the war from the relative safety of the International Space Station. 

Astronauts don’t exactly have the luxury of going into their closets or running to the store in order to pick out a wardrobe to reflect current events. Rather, they have to wear spacesuits designed and made in the months leading up to their mission. In other words, these blue-and-yellow spacesuits were selected by these cosmonauts long before Russia launched its attack on Ukraine in February 2022. 

HOW TO SPOT FAKE PHOTOS?

  • Pay attention to the images with the largest resolution and size. The resolution of photos decreases with each new edit, so the photo of the largest size or with the best resolution is the least edited. This is an indirect sign that such a photo may be the original.
  • Pay attention to the date of publication. The image with the earliest date is closest to the original.
  • Reread the photo captions. Two identical images can have different descriptions.
  • Fake photos are not just cropped or edited, but can also be mirrored.
  • You can search the particular website, social network or domain.

There are a variety of tools you can use to spot fake photos such as TinEyeGoogle Images,  Baidu (which works better for Chinese content), Yandex and metadata searching tools like FotoForensics.

If you are going to use these tools for verifying photos often, try ImgOps, which contains the tools mentioned above, and you can add your own. Another is Imageraider.com, analogous to TinEye but with some different features, such as the capacity to analyze several pictures at one time and to exclude some websites from search results.


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