Have you ever seen an image in a newspaper or online that you thought was off? There are plenty of ‘Photoshopped’ images on social media and in the mainstream media too. Don't take pictures you see online at face value. If they look too good to be true, they probably are. Question the authenticity of images you see – especially in this heated political season.
Often, pictures are manipulated to achieve a particular goal, such as making a small group appear huge. Here, photos from a different event are carefully melded with images from another event to create the illusion that the politician is a crowd magnet. Gimmicks like these are used to pull a wool over the face of the public.
Even without any alterations, the angle at which the picture is taken can tell a different story. If a picture is taken too close to the object, you can’t see the surroundings. If taken too far, then some details are lost or exaggerated. So, don't take the photos as gospel. Examine them before believing what they say.
Some photos have been meticulously cloned. Cloned images are duplicated versions of the originals. The object that's duplicated could be a section of a crowd.
You can identify a cloned picture by looking for unique objects in the image and checking to see if you can spot the detail elsewhere in the image. It could be a person wearing a distinctive hat or shirt or someone holding a placard or an electricity pole that appears elsewhere.
No matter what the source, look for pictures that are taken at a strange angle or have an odd crop, as if something was removed deliberately. Was the image taken from an extremely close perspective to perhaps embellish or distort something?
Observe the shadows of the people in the picture if you can. How does the direction of the shadow relate to the estimated time the picture was taken? Is the image consistent with the weather conditions of the day? Considering the venue of the meeting, do you expect to see mountains or hills in the background, but you don't? These can be some of the tell-tale signs you can use to smoke the fake from the real.
A scientific method of examining pictures involves reviewing metadata and information about the image, which is often hidden within the settings of each picture. Metadata tells, for example, where the photo was taken, the altitude at which it was taken, and the type of device used to capture the picture. Additionally, it shows some of the digital tools that might have been used to edit the picture.
You may not be the best person to pick altered pictures, but you're probably better than you think at spotting a fake. If it doesn't look right, it's probably not.
Mr Wambugu is an informatics specialist. [email protected].