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Evaluating Online Sources: Evaluating Images & Media

A guide to help you decipher what is credible and what is not.

Evaluating Images: Tracing to the Source Origins

Often images get reused on the web, and it's hard to know where they originated and if they have been manipulated or used to mislead. The SIFT strategies outlined on the home page of this guide can help you investigate the origin of an image and if it is trustworthy.

The last part of SIFT may be especially helpful: TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context. Start by asking from where the image originates. You may also need to INVESTIGATE the source(s) where you find the image. Consider questions like:  

  • Is the image from the webpage's creator or publisher or from somewhere else?
  • Do you trust the source/s on which the image appears? If you're unsure about that source, investigate it by seeing what others have said about the author or publication.
  • Is there a credited source or a link beside the image? If so, can that credited source be verified?  
  • Does the image - or do discussions of the image - appear elsewhere on the web? (Try Google Reverse Image Search, described below.)

Combining strategies: Keep in mind that sometimes you need to combine multiple strategies to evaluate the image's credibility (for example, examining who posted the image and assessing their credibility). The tools on this page can help in this process.

It is also important to remember pictures and videos do not tell the whole story. They are a limited view of a scene in a static moment of time. You do not know the surrounding or what happened before or after the image. Be sure to check for bias when evaluating images.

Google Reverse Image Search

Google's or Tineye's Reverse Image Search can help you determine an image's origins, which may or may not be the page where you found it. Reverse Image Searches looks for webpages that contain a specific image or similar images. If you find a related image, compare it and its origins with the image you're checking.


  • Search for an image from a website in the Chrome browser: Right-click on the image and select "Search Google for image." The results page will show you "Visually similar images" and potentially "Pages that include matching images." If there are other pages with matching images, look for the oldest page, which is more likely to e closest to the source from which the image originates. You can also try  Tineye's Reverse Image Search
    OR
  • Upload an image: In Google Images you can upload an image file and search for identical or similar images. Click Search by Image (the camera icon) and upload the image file you would like to search. (Note that Google stores the image file for 7 days; only upload a file you don't mind their having.) 

To see how you might combine multiple strategies see this example of using Google Reverse Image Search from Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers.

Video: Search the History of an Image (Cntl-F, with Mike Caulfield)

Sorting Google Images by Date

When an image appears in multiple places online, it's helpful to sort by date in order to find the original source of the image. After running a Google Reverse Image Search, you can sort images by date: click the "Tools" option (top of page, next to the Settings), select the "Time" dropdown menu, then select "Custom range," and finally choose a range of dates or years. (If you have no idea around what year the image is from, Mike Caulfield recommends starting with 2009.) 

Learn more about from Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers.

Checking a Social Media Account

How do you know if the person behind a Twitter or other social media account is trustworthy? In the video below fact checkers from Buzz Feed offer some tips on invesigating who is behind the account.. 

Video: "Evaluating Social Media Accounts" (Ctrl+F)

Key video points:

  • Check when the account was created.

  • Do a Reverse Image search on the profile image (right-click on the image). Do related images appear to use the same name?

  • If the account appears to be a famous person, look for a blue verification checkmark next to the username. You can also check things like spelling. 

 

Deepfake Videos

Deepfakes are fake media like images and videos in which an image of one person is replaced by another. Deepfakes can be surprisingly deceptive, even at this early stage in their development. The video below discusses the history of deepfakes and ways to detect them.

Video - Deepfakes: Can You Spot a Phony Video (Above the Noise, KQED)

It can be hard to spot deepfakes. Perhaps the most important thing is to be aware that they exist, so you can think critically about visual and media content that you encounter, as you consider their origins.

Here are some practical tips from the "Above the Noise" video above. To detect deepfakesl look for:

  • Facial framing: a straight forward-looking "mug shot"
  • Unrealistic-looking eyes and teeth
  • Strange blending on the outline of the face

You can also:

  • Look online for other sources that include the video. Consider those sources' credibility.
  • For YouTube videos, go to https://citizenevidence.amnestyusa.org/ and enter the YouTube URL. This site tracks misleading web content.
  • Slow down and reconsider sharing a video about which you have any questions. This allows time for professional fact checkers to spot the deepfake and inform others about it.

Viral Photos

Sometimes images are posted to social media sites like Twitter with no indication of their origins. Google Image Search (described above) can often help in identifying the image source, but you may also need other strategies.  

  • If available, Google an image's caption or headline, or Google a basic description of the image. (When selecting search terms and evaluating search results, keep in mind that viral images often have been misrepresented. You may find information about the image that doesn't match how the image was represented to you. 
  • If you find multiple references to an image published on different dates, pay the closest attention to the older content. Older content is more likely to be the original source, or at least closer to  the original source. 
  • When you find the original source, check the date. Does the date of the original image fit with how the image is represented in the reuse of the image?

Learn more about tracking viral photos from Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.

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