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Fighting fake news: 5 free (but powerful) tools for journalists

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A Pew Research Center study, released last month, found that most U.S. adults (63%) think that altered videos and images create a great deal of confusion about the facts of current events. Further, a majority (77%) are of the opinion that steps should be taken to restrict altered or made-up images and videos.

While doctored images are not new phenomena, the easy availability of fake image and video creation tools has made the work of journalists tougher.

The Pew study states, “U.S. adults blame political leaders and activists far more than journalists for the creation of made-up news intended to mislead the public. But they believe it is primarily the responsibility of journalists to fix the problem. And they think the issue will get worse in the foreseeable future.” 

Here are 5 free tools that journalists can use to verify fake images and videos:

Google Reverse Image Search

Google Reverse Image Search helps find images that are similar to the one being verified. This can help a journalist ascertain whether an image has been modified, or taken in a different context, which changes the story. Since Google is the leading search engine with a huge database, this is a good place to begin the investigation.

TinEye

TinEye is similar to Google Reverse Image Search i.e., it searches the web for similar images.  TinEye is constantly crawling the web and updating its image database regularly. It has indexed over 37 billion images till date. 

It also has extensions for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera that allow users to search for any web image by simply right-clicking on images in a web browser. 

Source: TinEye

It also has options to sort and filter search results. These features make it easier for users to compare the image they want to verify, with the ones that are returned in the search results. 

Source: TinEye

FotoForensics

FotoForensics analyzes digital images and points out the areas where they could have been altered. It uses an advanced algorithm called Error Level Analysis (ELA), to identify areas within an image that are at different compression levels.

In the case of JPEG images, the entire picture should be at approximately the same error level. If a section of the image is at a significantly different error level, that indicates the image may have been modified. 

For example, the ELA brightness of the picture below indicates that the floppy disc in Kim Jong Un’s hand is not the item he was originally holding. 

FotoForensics also analyzes an image’s metadata to find out additional information like say, whether it came from a camera, or was edited in Adobe Photoshop.

Forensically

Forensically is a set of free tools for digital image forensics. It includes clone detection, error level analysis, noise analysis metadata extraction and more.

Source: Forensically

It works like a magnifying glass helping users spot inconsistencies in images. For example, the clone detector highlights copied regions within an image. Noise analysis is useful for identifying modifications like airbrushing, deformations, warping and perspective corrections. 

InVID Verification Plugin

InVID Verification Plugin is available for Chrome and Firefox. It is designed to be like “a Swiss Army knife,” and combines several tools in a single unit. The plugin interface has a number of tabs indicating their functionality. They are Analysis, Keyframe, Thumbnails, Search, Magnifier Lens, Metadata, Video Rights, Forensics and Contextual Menu. 

Watch how the different tools offered by InVID Verification Plugin can help verify videos and images:

Users need to paste the URL of say, a YouTube or Facebook video in the plugin’s interface. The tool then analyzes the video and provides details about its origins.

It includes metadata like when the video was uploaded, the locations featured in it and so on. The plugin can also segment a video into keyframes that can then be searched on Google, Yandex, TinEye, and Baidu.

InVID Verification Plugin allows users to enhance a Twitter advanced search for keywords or hashtags using the since and until operators, either separately, or together, to query within a time interval, up to the minute. This can help journalists verify events in a breaking news situation. The plugin also offers forensic filters to find if any alterations were made to an image.

The above tools are just the first step in the verification process. They can serve as handy shortcuts that help speed it up, but may not always provide conclusive answers.

As Matt Cooke, Head of Partnerships and Training, at Google says, “There is nothing that will replace journalism, your analysis, and your integrity, but there are digital tools that can help you make that decision yourself.”

Download WNIP’s comprehensive new report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

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