As Hurricane Sandy bombarded the East Coast, social media users posted photos on Twitter, Facebook and other sites of the damage caused by the storm, many of them fake. The images were often of other storms, taken from movies or Photoshopped mash-ups, causing unwarranted concern for friends and relatives who live far away and embarrassment for those individuals who posted the photos.
For example, the photo at the top of this article of an impressive storm cloud creeping up on the Statue of Liberty has been making the rounds.
Sharing a doctored image on social media can be embarrassing, especially once you’re outed by tech-savvy nerds. Also, since the hurricane is an epic storm, fake photos that inspire fear and awe can cause unnecessary worry for concerned friends and relatives of people who are currently weathering the storm.
Luckily, there are some resources for spotting fake photos. Here’s how you can spot a fake Hurricane Sandy photo:
If it’s too good to be true…it probably is
Sharks swimming in the street or subway? That’s a pretty cool image. Probably too cool to happen in real life, especially when you consider that those sharks would’ve had to swim through a network of subway tunnels just to find their way onto the platform.If an image looks too awe-inspiring, there’s a very good chance that it wasn’t taken in the middle of a raging, dangerous hurricane.
Also, read the fine print. A photo of the George Washington Bridge featuring dark clouds against a bright blue sky is just a stock photo from 2009. Plus, the caption incorrectly calls it the Brooklyn Bridge.
If you found the photo on the Internet, then it’s probably on Google. You can search for the photo using basic search terms (for example: “sharks swimming in street hurricane sandy”), or you can do a Google image search.
To do a Google image search, download the image to your computer and open up Google Image Search. Click the camera icon in the search bar and click “Upload an image.” Upload the image from your computer, and Google Image Search will spit back all the instances of that image that it can find on the Web. Examine the search results to determine if the image is real. Hint: if it’s showing up on a bunch of sites called “Fake Hurricane Sandy Photos,” it’s probably not real.
Use a reverse image search
You can also search for the image using a reverse image search such as TinEye. To use TinEye, save the image in question to your hard drive. Then, drag the saved image onto the TinEye website, and TinEye will spit back the instances of your image that it can find on the Internet. TinEye can sort the images by “Most Changed,” which will help you determine whether the image was Photoshopped. TinEye can also sort images by largest size, which, if the image has been altered, may spit back original images.
Find the original source
If possible, find the original source of the image – don’t just retweet it or post it because you saw it on Facebook. To find the original source you may have to get resourceful: use image searches, follow links, and ask people who shared the image where it came from. If you can follow the source back to a Twitter or Instagram feed and the owner confirms that they took it, then it’s probably real.
Also, consider the angle of the photo and where the original photographer had to be in order to capture that photo. Take this photo of the Statue of Liberty being overtaken by waves:
Image Edited is a website that can analyze photos to determine if they’ve been edited. To use Image Edited, download the photo to your computer and drag it onto the Image Edited website. Image Edited isn’t 100 percent accurate, but it can give you a rough idea of whether an image has been edited/Photoshopped.
It can also tell you what type of phone or camera the image was taken with, which will help you determine if the image was edited. For example, if the image was taken with a DSLR, there shouldn’t be strange pixilation around particular elements (and such pixilation may be an indication of Photoshopping).
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Sarah is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She has a love/hate relationship with social media and a bad habit of describing technology as "sexy."