Updated: July 21, 2022
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You will learn

From TikTok to Snapchat to Instagram, photos and videos have become the main way we connect with each other online. But the visuals you see on your social feed are not always legit. Learn how to verify questionable photos, videos or memes, and why a grain of truth can make misinformation go viral.

Bad actors who spread misinformation know they can use your emotions against you — and that misleading visuals are powerful. They might include outdated photos or videos with captions that enrage or surprise you, manipulated photos and videos that edit out important context, or sketchy memes and deepfakes. And if you find yourself in a filter bubble, it may be tough to come across legitimate information.

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Think about a time when you or someone you know shared something online that turned out to be false.

  • What made that post look believable?

MediaWise Campus Correspondent Loren Miranda will walk you through how to perform a reverse image search:

Read the video transcript (PDF)

A grain of truth can mislead

Misinformers often build misleading posts, photos or videos around an actual fact — or twist the truth to fit into a false narrative. After all, grains of truth have the power to make false information more believable, especially when they are presented right before the false statement. Don’t be fooled. Look out for these:

Digital manipulation
The images you see online can be manipulated with photo editing software — “Photoshopped” — to alter, add or remove things. You may come across several images in a composite photo. Despite containing some grains of truth, manipulated images misrepresent people, events or locations.

Out-of-context posts
Most commonly though, photos may be outdated but presented as new, or paired with a misleading caption. Images and videos are often reused online, so make sure you’re looking at an original. It may be a stock photo or video, which are images that are representative of concepts, events or ideas and are meant for resale or reuse. Keep in mind that misinformers may omit photo credits in the caption. Videos may also lose context if editors trim important footage. Even a few seconds of a video can be cut away to completely change the message of a politician, celebrity or news broadcast.

Cross-posted content
A user might share a screen recording of a TikTok video on Instagram Reels to hide the identity of the original creator. Someone may create a fake tweet and share a screenshot on Facebook to make it difficult to discern whether it’s real. Bad actors can use cross posting to launder disinformation by stripping away important context — always be aware of those screenshots.

Content mash
Memes pair photos with text, might trigger your emotions — and rarely include sources. Before sharing or replicating the latest memes, verify the text or quote.

What’s a filter bubble?

When you browse online, sites track your activity using algorithms so they can pair you with content you may find interesting. However, this may put you in a “filter bubble,” where you don’t see other perspectives and only see posts that confirm your beliefs. Luckily, there are some tools to help you verify what you see is true.

Tools for verifying photos and videos

Use the following fact-checking tools to do a reverse image search online:

The process for verifying videos is similar. Just take a screenshot of a frame in the video and do a reverse image search with it. Or, have InVid do it for you with its keyframes function.

It’s your turn!

Here is a viral video of a lifeguard sending someone into orbit. Try doing a Google reverse image search to verify it. See if you can locate the original poster and where it was shot.

Tip: Try to grab a clear video frame.
Pro tip: Explore InVid’s keyframe or video analysis tool and see what you find.

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Misinformation comes in many forms but it most often uses imagery to grab your attention. False or misleading content often contains grains of truth to make the content more believable. And filter bubbles isolate you online to only see things that confirm your beliefs.