Basic tricks to avoid internet hoaxes
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Online tools don’t always catch altered images. But with a few tips, you can verify images yourself. So, Sherlock, here are some tips to help you carry out your own investigations.
A lot of the apps built to analyse photos and videos that circulate online don’t always work perfectly. For example, even if you run a search on a suspicious-looking video, the app might not always pull up all the instances when it was posted online
So, here are a few tips to help you find the answers yourself.
Listen carefully to the soundtrack of the video
When you stumble across this video on Facebook or YouTube, it goes into autoplay when you scroll over it. The footage starts rolling, but there is no sound. That means you see what happens but you are missing important information provided by the sound.
Watch this video with the sound and listen carefully. The man isn’t speaking in French, Turkish or Spanish. That should be enough to give you, the viewer, pause.
You can find out more about this hoax by reading our article about it.
But be careful...
Sometimes, people modify the sound on a video. That was what happened with a video that was widely shared on WhatsApp in Morocco back in January. The video showed a young man being beaten, supposedly because of his sexual orientation. When you listened to the sound on the video, you could hear the men insulting him in Arabic with a Moroccan accent.
Screengrab from a video shared via WhatsApp in Morocco.
However, if you do a reverse image search on the video itself, you’ll see that this video was actually filmed in Brazil and shows an attack reported by the Brazilian press in January 2018. Those who shared it on Moroccan WhatsApp groups actually added a voice speaking Arabic to the original footage-- we still aren’t sure why.
Focus on the details
When it comes to verifying images that are circulating online, the devil is often in the details. A tiny detail can allow you to prove that a caption contains misleading or false information about the photo in question.
This video shows, from several different angles, an incredibly busy train station. Trains go by with dozens of passengers perched on top of the cars. An American social media user claimed that the footage showed “a Muslim army” flooding Europe, contributing to the fake news online about migrants.
However, you can quickly disprove this theory if you watch the video closely, looking for details that might help you to establish when and where this video was taken. Starting 14 seconds into the video, you can see the back of a train with writing on it.
These letters aren’t Latin or Cyrillic, the two alphabets used in Europe. The words are actually written in Bengali, the official language of Bangladesh and several states in eastern India.
(Always) read the comments sections
Before launching into your own research, read the comments sections carefully. Other people probably had some of the same suspicions that you did. It is possible that they already found answers. Sometimes, you can find the right answers in the comments section even when the tools you are using to verify images aren’t working. Below, you’ll see one video that caught our attention.
We were sent this video more than 50 times on the Observers' WhatsApp number. The caption on the video says that it shows police violence in Togo and that it was filmed on Jan. 13, 2018.
The online tool InVID, which you can use to do a reverse image search, pulled up instances of this photo from 2016. Mostly, it seemed like it had been posted to Facebook along with captions talking about protests in Cameroon.
But, in the comments sections, some people claimed that this video was actually filmed in Côte d'Ivoire. If you run a search using the keywords in French "vidéo manifestant tabassé Côte d’Ivoire" ("video protester beaten Ivory Coast"), you will find that this video was actually filmed on Oct. 28, 2016 during a protest in Abidjan.
Consider the person who shared it
In order to get an idea of the trustworthiness of a post quickly, you can look at the profile of the person who shared it and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are they using a fake name?
- Has this person shared sensationalist articles and false information in the past?
- Does this person seem to have strong political beliefs and share false information that supports those beliefs?
There are many social media accounts run by robots that generate posts automatically. Watch out for these accounts, which are often used to share false information. This is especially common on Twitter. If you have a doubt, use the tool BotOrNot to figure out if it is a human or a robot behind the account that you are looking at.