Verify photos on social media with reverse image search

News is broken on social media every day, but I tell my newsroom to RT and share things they see only if they can see where the poster got that information — or if they do that reporting themselves.

A big part of getting facts right on social media comes down to verifying images. There are many important people (Bellingcat, Storyful) dedicated to getting things right through advanced tricks and tracking, but there are simple tricks any journalist can use, like contacting the poster to ask for more information or looking for red flags in the image itself that suggests tampering (things not lining up, misplaced shadows, weather that doesn’t fit with the location, etc).

A basic tool that is free for everyone to use: Google’s new “Search by image.” The reverse-search engine allows you to search the web using just an image file.

Try this with a photo someone uploads natively in your Twitter stream. You can either upload the image, drag and drop the file, or copy and paste the URL where you found the image into the search bar at images.google.com.

This will bring up image results for images that are similar to what you uploaded, or web pages that include the image. With these results, you can usually find the original source by looking for the image with the highest resolution. Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking at the Google search results.

  • Compare the two photos — are they the same?
  • Look at the dates of the results. Does the image on social match up with the time they were first uploaded?
  • Click through to the stories the photos appear in. What is the context of the stories? Are they referring to the same thing as the social poster?

There are many great people working on social media content verification. Here is The World’s interview with Eliot Higgins about his work verifying the James Foley video. For a more in-depth guide at verifying images, Trushar Barot has an excellent chapter in the Verification Handbook dedicated to the subject.

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