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Leer-Salvesen: Picture checks

There are many ways to investigate the origin of an image.


"Tomb where you stand" column

Some very dramatic pictures were shared on social media last fall, and a filmmaker contacted me to check if the pictures could be real.
The pictures showed a ship filled to the brim with people, so many that the ship literally floated over by people who more or less stood on top of each other. The man who shared the photos on social media commented on them: "These are not Syrians. These are Europeans trying to get to North Africa during World War II. So the next time you think about closing the boundaries, maybe you should talk to your grandparents first. ” His post was shared 314 times on Facebook. The photos were also diligently shared on Twitter and other social media.
The same images have also been used frequently to illustrate the fate of Syrian boat refugees in the Mediterranean.

There's many ways to investigate the origin of an image. Today we are going to consider a method that is not the most scientific, but which nevertheless quickly gives you an impression of whether the same image was published previously and what kind of story was told about it then.
You save the image you want to check on the desktop of your computer (in Windows you can right-click it and select "save as"). Go to (don't use the search window in your browser). In the search window you can now enter keywords. But in the upper right corner you can click on "Images". A small camera icon will appear in the search window. If you click on it, you can upload an image and use it as a search string instead of a keyword.
What happens next is that the search engine looks for motifs similar to your image, rather than words similar to your keyword search. In just a few seconds, Google will find the other places on the internet where the same image subject appears.
From here, one can either refine the search by requesting the version of the image that has the highest resolution, or different time intervals when it was published.
The pictures that were supposed to show Europeans who fled to Africa during World War II, turn out to have been published with a completely different story a few years ago in German and Italian newspapers. According to Der Tagesspiegel, the photos show 20 Albanians storming a boat in Durres west of Tirana and forcing the captain to transport them to Italy. The year is not 000, but August 1940. Now we have both a year and a ship name, and can go on to find other sources.
The answer the filmmaker got was that the subject is known from before, but that the story of the picture is probably quite different from the one he had first been served.

Try it yourself:

Tarjei Leer-Salvesen will monthly give readers and journalists clues as to what investigative journalism is, and what it can teach us as media consumers.

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