Factsheets & Guides

GUIDE: How to spot fakes and hoaxes online

Researched by Ray Joseph

The bloody and broken body of a half-naked man is dragged down a crowded street, three soldiers walking alongside, one of them about to hurl a huge rock at the unconscious man’s head.

A shocking picture of the event, taken by Associated Press photographer Jerome Delay, was published in newspapers around the world. The dateline: Central African Republic, February 2014.

A month later the same picture re-emerged on Twitter, but this time it was said to show “a homosexual stoned by police” in Uganda, a country that was in the process of passing legislation outlawing and attaching harsh penalties to homosexuality.

Fake images spread easily online

The picture went viral after it was widely shared on Twitter and other social media, including by some journalists who should have known better.

Yet a quick search using TinEye – a free extension for Chrome and Firefox browsers, an essential and easy-to-use tool for journalists in this age of Photoshop and social media – would have saved a lot of red faces. The software uses image identification technology to determine where an image has come from.

Then there was the March 2014 tweet about a car swallowed by a giant pothole in Johannesburg. Again, the image was widely shared on social media.

Again, a quick TinEye search would have revealed that the picture, though genuine, was in fact taken in Durban in 2009. Another giveaway was the fireman in the corner of the picture wearing a “Durban Metro” coat.