SALT LAKE CITY – His name is “fog of war” – images and information that spread rapidly from the battlefield. And while he may have speed, he isn’t always accurate.
There are several tools journalists use to tell fact from fiction, and you can use them to verify the information you find online.
The quickest access to powerful images of the conflict in Ukraine is not in the evening news. Real speed is on your smartphone: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok – all on the first lines of communication. However, it also makes truth watchers very nervous about the potential for misinformation.
The non-profit journalists’ organisation, Poynter, warns journalists to be very careful when confirming images are what they claim to depict. This, as examples emerge from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Associated Press said people are image sharing of a warehouse fire in China in 2015, saying they describe the current conflict. And Reuters‘ Fact Check debunks photo of injured girl who is currently doing the rounds, saying so “is from 2018 and was taken during the Syrian war, not during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as users claim.”
There are a handful of techniques journalists use to verify an image‘s truthfulness that anyone can use.
Every time a photo is taken with a smart device, the image file is filled with hidden data. Using 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 demystifying images is Google, or technically its offshoot, Google Images..
Unlike Google‘In the main search engine, Google Images displays a small camera icon. Click it and you can paste a URL to the image you want to check out, 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 bullet. 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 five years ago.
Any journalist will tell you, if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes, it can be hard to be 100% sure that an image is real. But these tools can help weed out images that are do not real.