If you’ve brushed up on FRANCE 24 Observers’ verification guide, you now have the knowledge to verify images with a reverse image search or look for edits with some forensic tools. You should also have the basic instincts needed to be alert when browsing social media. This guide will show you some more advanced verification techniques that can help you dig a little deeper into the origins of a post or page.
It’s important to remember that none of the tools in this article or in our complete verification guide will enable you to verify an image with certainty if used alone. These tools are only part of the verification process and can offer solutions when you don’t get the information you’re looking for with basic tools. The FRANCE 24 Observers team uses these tools regularly, as you can see in some examples below.
Verification tools are constantly being developed. We will continue to update this article with the best tools available to the public.
1. Tools that allow you to view an image’s metadata
One way to find out if someone is telling the truth about the origin of a photo or video is to take a look at the photo’s metadata. Metadata is information linked to a digital file that records, among other things, the date and time when a picture was taken and its geographical coordinates. On a computer, you can get this information by right-clicking the image and then clicking properties.
You can also use online tools, which sometimes show you even more metadata than if you were just looking at it on your computer. Here are three examples:
All you need to do is upload the image you are researching to one of these sites and then take a look at the results.
We have an example below, with an image that we have named “IMG_0384.JPG”. The metadata includes information about the camera used to take the photo (a Canon EOS 1100D) and the date the photo was taken (November 20, 2014). If the photo was taken with a cell phone that has geolocation turned on, you’ll likely also see the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken.
However, it’s important to remember that these tools have some pretty significant limits. They only work with images that still have their metadata. However, metadata can be removed from an image if it is posted on certain social media or shared via an instant messaging application such as WhatsApp or Telegram.
There is also another risk – people can actually change the metadata of an image if they want to mislead viewers. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s good to be aware that it can be the case.
Click here to see an example of a time we used metadata to verify an image.
>> Read more about The Observers: A Confederate flag discovered in the window of the police barracks in Paris
In the article above, one of our readers sent us a picture of a Confederate flag hanging in the window of a French police barracks. We used the metadata to confirm the date and time the photo was taken.
2. Search Facebook with Who posted what?
When looking for information about a topic, it can be helpful to find out when it was first posted online. But it can be difficult on a site like Facebook, which does not have a good search function.
A tool you can use is called Who posted what? Check it out by following this link.
This tool can help you find someone’s username on Facebook and then run advanced searches on their posts. But one of the most important features of this tool is that you can search for posts in the past using keywords and specifying a moment in time.
If you want even more detailed information, you can use another tool called SOW Search. It’s the updated version of another tool called Graph Search, and you can do very detailed searches on it.
3. Weather tools
It can be very easy to debunk a photo or video by verifying the weather on the day the photo was said to have been taken. For example, if someone says it was snowing in the Sahara desert and sends you a photo, you can verify the photo by checking out a weather app.
There are three websites that collect weather data for a number of cities around the world. You can also verify the temperature and rainfall recorded on a given day at these locations.
For example, if you look at the weather in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, on May 3, 2022, you will see that the sky was partly cloudy and the maximum temperature was 31 °C. If someone sends you a video that apparently shows it pouring rain on the same day, it’s likely that something isn’t right.
4. Check out an archived version of a website
Online, it is quite common for pages or posts to be deleted so that you can no longer see them. But the internet has a memory, and sometimes you can find content that has since been deleted.
There are two different ways to do this. If the content was recently deleted, you can look at Google’s cache, which may still display the page. You can go to this website https://cachedview.com/ and copy and paste the website URL.
If the first step doesn’t work, the last resort is a website called the Wayback Machine. It’s a collaborative project that allows anyone to archive and reference websites or social media posts.
You can paste the URL you want to verify. If someone has previously archived the page, the tool will pull up all the archived versions available.
For example, you can see how the home page of the FRANCE 24 Observers website looked in December 2007.
More reference tools
If you want to know more about what verification tools are available, Bellingcat, a collective of online investigators, maintains an up-to-date list. Check it out by following the links below.