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Tool of the week for journalists – Error Level Analysis, to test if a photo is a hoax

Tool of the week: Error Level Analysis

What is it? A free tool to allow you to test whether or not an image has been digitally manipulated in programmes such as Adobe Photoshop. Paste the URL of a photo and Error Level Analysis will return results in an instant. The tool tests how many times an image has been manipulated and re-saved.

How is it of use to journalists? Journalists frequently have to verify images and work out whether they have been manipulated. It may be to test whether an image from a press release has been altered, or from social media sources using Twitter and Facebook.

Take the case of a journalist’s quest to find the man behind the world’s most expensive everything. Stewart Campbell, the deputy editor of Motor Boat and Yachting, set out to prove that a press release claiming the launch of a £3 billion golden superyacht was a fake. Campbell’s keen eye led him to the original photo, which he could prove had been doctored. Error Level Analysis would have demonstrated the level of digital manipulation, which you can see by clicking here.

The Error Level Analysis site clearly explains how the tool works – and comes with a word of warning about interpreting the results:

It works by resaving an image at a known quality, and comparing that to the original image. As a jpeg image is resaved over and over again, its image quality decreases. When we resave an image and compare it to the original, we can guess just how many times the image has been resaved. If an image has not been manipulated, all parts of the image should have been saved an equal amount of times. If parts of the image are from different source files, they may have been saved a number of different times, and thus they will stand out as a different colour in the ELA test.

It is worth noting that edges and areas red in colour are often depicted as brighter in the ELA tests. This due to the way the photos are saved by various programs. It is not proof that image was manipulated.

If you are unsure how to interpret the results, please do not claim the results of this tool as proof of anything.

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How not to fall for a hoax like ‘IE6 users are dumb’

August 5th, 2011 | 3 Comments | Posted by in PR, Press freedom and ethics

First journalists fell for made-up stories sent out by a fake PR to highlight to practice of churnalism, now news outlets – including the BBC, Daily Mail and Telegraph – have published a hoax story that users of Internet Explorer 6 are dumb.

Here are five questions journalists should ask themselves in order to avoid falling for a hoax.

1. Does the story sounds possible? Journalists ask questions and should look at data with a critical eye. If presented with a press release saying the IE6 users are dumb, ask yourself how likely that really is.

Why do people use the an old version of Internet Explorer? Because they work for firms that do not grant them administrator rights to update software? Because they are less experienced web users and don’t know how to? Because they are older users who are less likely to trust updates and downloads?

2. When was the web domain of the PR company registered? A website such as who.is will give you a date of registration, the address where the site is registered, a company number and server details. (You can click the image below to see the results.)

3. Are the photos ripped from another website?  The hoaxer who wrote the “IE6 users are dumb” press release included employee photographs on the fake company website ripped from a legitimate French business.

You can run an image search – or even a reverse image search – by using Google Image Search or TinEye.

4. Does the phone number given on the press release appear elsewhere on the web? Google the phone number on the site or press release.

5. Does the address listed on the website, press release and domain registration exist? Enter the postcode into the Royal Mail address finder.

The hoaxer – a developer called Tarandeep Gill who set up the hoax to highlight his frustrations of people using IE6 – has published the tell-tale signs that should have uncovered the hoax in five minutes

1.The domain was registered on 14 July 2011;

2. The test that was mentioned in the report, “Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (IV) test” is a copyrighted test and cannot be administered online;

3. The phone number listed on the report and the press release is the same listed on the press releases/whois of my other websites. A google search reveals this;

4. The address listed on the report does not exist;

5. I copy/pasted most of the material from “Central Test” [the legitimate Paris-based firm] and got lazy to even change the pictures;

6. The website is made in WordPress. Come on now!

7. I am sure, my haphazardly put together report had more than one grammatical mistakes [sic];

6. There is a link to our website AtCheap.com in the footer.

Journalists should also be aware of the “churn engine to distinguish journalism from churnalism“, launched by the Media Standards Trust in February. Click the photo below to go to the churnalism tool, paste the contents of a press release and in cases where more than 20 per cent of an article and press release overlap, the search engine will highlight it as a potential example of ‘churn’ and give you overlap as a percentage.

 

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BBC: Pakistani newspapers publish fake embassy cables

December 10th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Pakistani newspapers have today admitted they were hoaxed after publishing reports yesterday “based on fake WikiLeaks cables”, according to a BBC report.

This follows WikiLeaks’ release of batches of diplomatic cables from a leak of more than 250,000 last week. It is not known who instigated the hoax.

The English-language Express Tribune newspaper, which is affiliated to the International Herald Tribune in Pakistan, published a front-page retraction.

The newspaper said it “deeply regrets publishing this story without due verification and apologises profusely for any inconvenience”.

But not all the titles who reported on the fake cables mentioned the matter the next day, the BBC adds.

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