Is this photo fake?

Warning, fake! Fake photos, videos and texts

Jörn-Erik Burkert

The Internet has become the preferred source of information for many users. In the abundance of messages and images, however, there are also many forgeries. You can identify these so-called fakes with search engines and tools.

EnlargeAre images in digital media real or fake? Multimedia forensics can find out.
© Fotolia / Photocreo Bednarek

The latest news and videos are shown on the screen at the push of a button and almost in real time. You can quickly access any information and share it quickly on Facebook & Co. This also includes “fake news”, ie false reports with manipulated information that spreads quickly. In the past, there have been many examples, especially in the field of politics, which in some cases are intended to influence people very consciously. Russian troll farms, bot accounts on social media and other organizations have been blamed for such campaigns. In particular for the three state elections this autumn, such fakes in various forms are to be expected.

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Everything must be critically scrutinized for possible forgeries

Many of these fakes are very well made and seemingly convey their content in a believable way. That is why users should always be critical of posts, images and videos and consider the possibility of fakes - with the necessary background knowledge and a little “common sense”, fake content can often be recognized. If you have an initial suspicion, you should search for headings or complete passages in texts with the help of a search engine. This enables incorrect quotations to be found and chronological sequences to be reconstructed.

For the popular quotes from politicians and other celebrities in the form of speech bubbles, type the text from the picture and search for it as a coherent phrase, i.e. in quotation times, on the Internet. Databases such as Wikiquote are also helpful here: statements from prominent people can be searched for and verified here.

It can be more difficult to identify counterfeit photos. The counterfeiters go to great lengths to change the motifs. Even the trimming of motifs can drastically change the content and help to illustrate false messages. Often, however, images are also completely taken out of context and used so deceptively. In an interview, fact checker Karolin Schwarz gives examples and tips on how to check photos and videos for authenticity. For example, a photo with Christians from Eritrea on the way to church was reinterpreted as Muslim refugees.

Many options for image analysis and manipulation

EnlargeHistorical falsification because the original was later no longer politically desired: Leon Trotsky was removed from the recording of an earlier Lenin speech on a negative.

The use of manipulated photos has a long history, a famous example shows a group shot of Lenin without his long-time colleague Leon Trotsky. The disgraced and murdered comrade in Mexico later disappeared from an earlier photo. At that time, people were still working manually to manipulate negatives and prints.

Modern counterfeits are digitally retouched with photo programs, and objects or people can be deleted in just a few steps. Inserting and changing image content works in a similar way. The changes can be easily recognized in poorly made fakes: An indication can be different shadows that reveal the assembly. To compensate for this, the built-in elements are sometimes mirrored. An additional check with comparative images helps to determine which arm the person depicted wears a watch or rings on. Signs of forgeries are poorly exposed objects or people as well as incorrect proportions. This makes the compositions seem fake. This also applies if different brightness and color saturation have not been adjusted. The additional element then stands out against the background and the forgery is evident.

EnlargePhoto and video specialist Adobe is working on a system for recognizing and visualizing image manipulation that works on the basis of artificial intelligence (AI).

Such indications for fakes can be checked with special tools and the initial suspicion can be confirmed. For some time now, Adobe has been working on solutions to make manipulated photos visible. In a cooperation project with the University of Berkeley, she is relying on artificial intelligence. According to Adobe, the software has a 99 percent success rate on photos modified using the Liquify tool in its Photoshop software. The tool should even be able to undo the changes. In another project, the manufacturer is developing a solution to detect inserted, deleted or duplicated objects in photos. So far, both solutions have only been used internally by the developers and are not available to the public.

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Fake news on social media

One of the main channels for spreading misinformation and forgery is via social media, for example Facebook. The operators try to use artificial intelligence and algorithms to identify such content and warn users. The case is similar with messenger services such as Whatsapp. Chain letters with false reports are often sent here.

EnlargeFalse reports via WhatsApp: Such chain letters claim, for example, that accounts would be blocked if the user did not forward the message.

The purpose of such actions can be false calls for donations, surreptitious advertising or even just the attempt to disrupt the service. Websites such as "Mimikama" provide information about such fakes and provide fact checks on a wide variety of topics. If you receive such messages, you should not forward them under any circumstances, but rather check the case via an Internet search and find out the background. Hackers like to use such reports for identity theft or cyberbullying.

Modern forensic software also reveals well-edited photos

EnlargeIn the example image of the online check Forensically, the analysis software detects with the function? Clone Detection? the inserted copies of cloud areas.

Photoforensics exist for the detailed examination of images