Dig deeper with these advanced verification tools

·5-min read
© Observers

If you've been brushing up on the FRANCE 24 Observers' verification guide, then you now have the know-how to verify images with a reverse image search or check for edits with some forensic tools. You should also have the basic instincts needed to be wary when scrolling through social media. This guide will show you some more advanced verification techniques that can help you dig a bit deeper into the origins of a post or a 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 just part of the verification process and can offer solutions when you don’t get the information you are looking for with basic tools. The FRANCE 24 Observers team uses these tools on a regular basis, as you can see in some examples below.

Verification tools are constantly evolving. We will keep updating this article with the best tools available to the public.

1. Tools that enable you to see an image’s metadata

One way to figure out if someone is telling the truth about the origin of a photo or video is to take a look at the image’s metadata. Metadata is information attached 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 info by right-clicking on the image and then clicking on properties.

You can also use online tools, which sometimes show you even more metadata than if you just look at it on your computer. Here are three examples:

All you need to do is upload the image you are investigating onto one of these sites and then take a look at the results.

We have an example below, using an image that we’ve entitled "IMG_0384.JPG". The metadata includes information on the camera used to take the photo (a Canon EOS 1100D) and the date when the photo was taken (November 20, 2014). If the photo was taken with a cellphone that has geolocation turned on, then you will also likely see the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken.

However, it is important to remember that these tools have some pretty significant limits. They only work with photos that still have their metadata. Metadata can be wiped from an image, however, if it is posted on certain social media sites or shared via an instant messaging application such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

There’s also another risk – people actually can 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 check out an example of a time when we used metadata to verify an image.

>> Read more on The Observers: A Confederate flag spotted in the window of police barracks in Paris

In the article above, one of our readers sent us an image of a Confederate flag hanging in the window of a French police barracks. We used the metadata to verify the date and time the photo was taken.

2. Search on Facebook with Who Posted What?

When you are looking for information on a topic, it can be useful to find out when it was first posted online. But that can be hard on a site like Facebook, which doesn’t have a great search function.

One tool you can use is called Who Posted What? Check it out by following this link.

This tool can help you find the username of someone on Facebook and then run advanced searches on their posts. But one of the most important functions 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 really easy to debunk a photo or a video by verifying the weather on the day the image was said to have been taken. For example, if someone says that it snowed in the Sahara Desert and sent you a photo, you can verify the image by checking out a weather app.

There are three sites that gather weather data for a number of cities around the world. You can also verify the temperature and the precipitation recorded on any given day on these sites.

For example, if you look at the weather in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, on May 3, 2022, then you will see that the sky was partially cloudy and that the maximum temperature was 31 °C. If someone sends you a video that apparently shows it pouring with rain on the same day, then it is likely that something isn’t right.

4. Check out an archived version of a site

Online, it is pretty common for pages or posts to be deleted so you can no longer see them. But the internet does have a memory and sometimes you can find a piece of content that has since been erased.

There are two different ways to do this. If the content was deleted recently, then you can look at Google’s cache, which might still show the page. You can go to this site https://cachedview.com/ and copy and paste the site’s URL.

If the first step doesn’t work, then your last chance is a site called the Wayback Machine. It’s a collaborative project that allows anyone to archive and reference websites or social media posts.

You can paste in the URL that you want to verify. If someone has archived the page in the past, then the tool will pull up all the archived versions that are available.

You can see, for example, what the homepage of the FRANCE 24 Observers website looked like in December 2007.

More reference tools

If you want to know more about what verification tools are available, Bellingcat, a collective of online investigators, keeps an up-to-date list. Check it out by following the links below.