Journalism and fact-checking

09. Flushing out fake photos on the networks /

A striking photo can easily tug the heart strings of internet users to stimulate sharing. Yet images are very easy to manipulate using very accessible and fairly easy-to-use image editing software. How do you make sure that a photo you see on social media hasn’t been edited, or that it’s not used out of context? That’s the subject of this video.

Free tools available on the internet such as Forensically or Fotoforensics are able to automatically identify the crudest editing. Forensically allows you, for example, thanks to a feature called Error Level Analysis (ELA), to see, by playing with the “Opacity” gauge, that both the flying saucer and the parachute have been added to this photograph.

However, for most of the photomontages circulating on the internet, these image analysis tools are not effective enough. We have to rely on a simpler, very convincing technique: reverse search on search engines. This allows you to easily find the original photos behind internet images that are manipulated, often for political purposes.

Let’s take a recent example. In July 2020, an impressive image is published on the site “”. The article reads: “Australia doesn’t want any more migrants. Two military ships rammed a boat containing illegal immigrants which did not respond to warnings. The illegals have all been sent back.”

When you come across a publication of this kind on social networks, often accompanied by hateful comments, the right response is to go to a search engine that offers an image search solution.

The best known is Google Images. It allows you to search the entire web for images similar to the one you need to check. In the case of our example, this is what we get:

You have several options. The first is to click on the image to find other articles that have used that illustration. In our case, we come across an article in the German newspaper Die Welt dating from 2012, which mentions Chinese activists arrested by Japanese coastguards on the island of Senkaku.

A “traditional” Google search will then allow us to better understand the context in which the photo was taken, and completely invalidate the initial article. This tells us that Associated Press was the source of our image, used in particular to illustrate this New York Times article at the time. It is therefore clear that this was a Japanese Coastguard operation that succeeded in intercepting a boat of pro-Chinese militants who managed to land on an island disputed by Beijing in Tokyo. Nothing to do with Australia, then, nor with the migratory issue.

Google Images doesn’t always deliver, especially since the search engine decided in 2019 to prevent reverse search beyond a period of one year. Microsoft’s search engine Bing, as well as the Russian Yandex, also offer very good services. In our example, it was Bing that put us on the right track the fastest.

Sometimes it’ll take a combination of all that to find what we’re looking for! Good luck, everyone! 

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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