It’s Not Too Difficult to Fool the Public with Manipulated Images

Posted by on Tuesday July 18, 2017 | Photojournalism

On the left is an original image. On the right, one that has been manipulated. The shadow has been altered and green garbage bins have been added to the background. Sophie Nightingale/University of Warwick

Fake news is much in the news these days and a new study from the University of Warwick has some disheartening, if not surprising, survey results showing that the public often has difficulty sorting real images from manipulated ones.

Researchers led by Sophie Nightingale from the Department of Psychology asked 659 people aged 13-70 to view a set of images of ordinary scenes. The researchers digitally altered the photographs in subtle, plausible ways. They airbrushed faces, whitened teeth, and added or removed items from the frame.  Thirty five percent of the manipulated images passed unnoticed. Half of the original, unaltered images were correctly identified.

According to the researchers, the results “are not very much above what the participants would have achieved had they chosen entirely randomly.”

Even when participants thought an image had been altered, they couldn’t always locate what was changed.

This isn’t surprising. As we detailed in a 2015 story, it can be particularly tough to spot manipulations, particularly if you don’t have access to an original image or RAW file. Services like Izittru allow you to upload JPEGs to verify that they’re legit but that can be cumbersome for a casual newsreader or someone skimming through their social media feeds.

Think you’d fare better than the general public in spotting a fake? You can take the University of Warwick’s test right here.

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