“And so it begins … ISIS flag among refugees in Germany fighting the police,” blared the headline on the Conservative Post; “with this new leaked picture, everything seems confirmed”. The image in question purported to show a group of Syrian refugees holding ISIS flags and attacking German police officers.
For those resistant to accepting refugees into Europe, this story was a godsend. The photo quickly spread across social media, propelled by far-right groups such as the English Defence League and Pegida UK. At the time of writing, the page claims to have been shared over 300,000 times.
The problem is, the photo is three years old, and has precious little to do with the refugee crisis. In fact, it seems to be from a confrontation between members of the far-right Pro NRW party and muslim counter-protesters, which took place in Bonn, back in 2012. A number of news outlets tried to highlight the hoax, including Vice, the Independent and the Mirror, as did numerous Twitter users.
But news in the digital age spreads faster than ever, and so do lies and hoaxes. Just like retractions and corrections in newspapers, online rebuttals often make rather less of a splash than the original misinformation. As I have argued elsewhere, digital verification skills are essential for today’s journalists, and academic institutions are starting to provide the necessary training.
But ordinary people are also starting to take a more sophisticated approach to the content they view online. It’s no longer enough to read the news – now, we want to understand the processes behind it. Fortunately, there are a few relatively effective verification techniques, which do not require specialist knowledge or costly software. Outlined below are six free, simple tools that any curious news reader can use to verify digital media.
Reverse image search
Not only is a reverse image search one of the simplest verification tools, it’s also the one that showed the “leaked” ISIS refugee photo was a fake. Both of the most popular services, Google Images and TinEye, found pages containing this image dating back to mid-2012. As the screenshot below shows, the “ISIS refugee” story could be debunked in less than a second.
When a link to the story was posted to Reddit, sceptical users swiftly took to Google to query it. Soon, one reported back: “Google Image Search says the photo is from 2012”.
Author Bio: Pete Brown is a Research Fellow, University of Oxford