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Here's how you can tell whether an image is real or fake

If an image looks too amazing to be true, chances are it probably is.

WHEN A MAJOR event or moment happens, it’s quickly followed by a massive influx of posts, images and videos detailing it. As this increases, so too does the rate in which pranksters put together hoax or old images in an attempt to fool people.

Fake images tend to be old photos reposted with a new context, two or more images combined together via photoshop, or old photoshopped images being recycled and used again. Some are spotted straight away while others tend to slip through the net as information flows in faster.

Context is the main reason something gets shared. When it framed correctly, it can convince many people that it’s legitimate despite evidence suggesting it’s not.

A perfect example of this happened on New Year’s Day. Chances are you saw this image of Europe said to be taken at midnight on New Year’s Day being shared online. It’s a nice image, but as you probably guessed by the heading of this piece, it’s not real, and it’s not new either since it appeared last year and the year before.

image(Image: Imgur)

Factors such as the entirety of Europe being cloudless, Ireland being completely covered in light, despite it being a sparsely populated country, and the fact that Europe spans across four different timezones – meaning that not all countries would be celebrating it at the same time – meant that those who questioned it would realise it’s fake, but the image was retweeted thousands of times meaning that many people were fooled.

Old images being passed off as current isn’t new, but there are a number of things you can do to determine what you’re seeing is real or not. The easiest way to check is to perform a reverse image search through Google Images. Go into images.google.com and drag any image over the search bar.

If you did it with the image above, you would get the following results. Note the dates of each result.


This isn’t a foolproof method, but it’s usually the first step to figuring out whether a picture has been modified or not. If it has, then there’s a decent chance you will find the original in the results.

If the image doesn’t have any history, then it’s important to look at who is sharing the photo, what context is provided, and whether there are any other sources to back up the image (the same scene taken from a different angle, for example). If it’s a retweet or shared from another account, then you need to go back to the original poster before doing this.

Inspecting the image

If that doesn’t help clear things up, the next step is to inspect the image itself. If you don’t have access to an image editor, there are two other ways you can spot a fake. The first is use an online product like Fotoforensics or Image Edited? to help out. However, while they’re useful, it’s worth noting that their ability to spot photoshopped images can be hit and miss so don’t rely on them completely.

The second is to inspect the image closely and look for clues. Photoshopping normally requires extra layers to be placed on top of the image, and doing that while making everything look seamless takes work.

The best way to spot it is, again, by looking at the lighting of each object as well their edges. If there are two similar objects and there are inconsistencies, then it’s very likely that it’s fake.

If you have access to Photoshop or any image editing app, then loading it up and switching between different coloured layers (done by going into channels) or boosting the photo’s saturation can help. Doing either of these will show that the lighting will differ in places, which is usually a clear giveaway.

This only scratches the surface of whether an image is real or not, but the best tool you can rely on is your own judgement. Like all things, if something seems too amazing to be true, chances are it probably is.

(For those curious, the image of Europe above is taken from Science Photo, and shows the change in illumination at night from 1993 to 2003.)

Read: The Paris-Mandela hoax is a perfect sign of the times >

Read: 17 images that made us cry this year >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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