How to find out if a photo your friend posted online is fake

Just because a picture speaks a thousand words doesn’t mean it has to be true.

The word "Thanks!" on this sign is easily replaced with a fake message.

The word “Thanks!” on this sign is easily replaced with a fake message.

Watch out for abuses of this photo of Mark Zuckerberg holding up a paper sign, for instance. Many are fakes.

In the video below, Mary Owen, former reporter at the Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press and Chicago program manager for the News Literacy Project, shows how to use readily available online tools to help judge the trustworthiness of any online photo.

If you have an inkling a particular photo may be too good to be true, do some research with tools like Google’s reverse-image search or TinEye. Checkdesk is a new tool that builds in some of these features and just received grant money to support its efforts.

Some bloggers and others on the internet do this “photo-debunking” work all the time. @FakeAstropix is an example of a Twitter account that does some heavy-lifting for you and keeps you in the know. @PicPedant is another, which was profiled by journalism correction junkie Craig Silverman in March 2014.

The American Press Institute is collaborating with the News Literacy Project on resources like this video to help youth better understand news they encounter online. NLP is a national education program that coordinates journalists to work with educators to teach middle school and high school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age. Its Learn Channel has other tips similar to the above video.

More resources

If you’re interested in corrections and hoaxes, you may enjoy this winter 2013 interview with Craig Silverman in which he talks about debunking as a strategy more newsrooms should employ. So far in 2014, many newsrooms are giving this form of storytelling a try — BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel has called 2014 “the year of the viral hoax debunk.”

Many other resources for students, educators and parents are currently available from API. More resources will be published in the future. To stay in the loop on these resources as well as the latest information about the industry, sign up for API’s daily morning newsletter Need to Know.

  1. Youth news literacy resources from API
  2. More videos from the News Literacy Project's Learn Channel