Checking online images in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, where political, social and economic debate is often delineated along lines of perceived communal affiliation, false information and rumours have the potential to increase communal division and tensions, especially at particular times of the year. 

Images play a big part in the types of information shared online here, and it is sometimes difficult to figure out whether an image on the internet is genuinely what it claims to be. There’s a “stickiness” to images, and they can communicate and infer so much more than a 280 character tweet. To paraphrase the old saying — a fake/misleading image can make its way halfway around Northern Ireland, while the accurate information is still putting on its shoes! 

So what can we do? Many of us feel we are not tech savvy or simply do not have the time to check every image we see online or receive via WhatsApp.

At FactCheckNI, we believe that common sense approach is so important, and the first things to think about when considering images online are:

    • Agendas — who is sharing it, and potentially why?
    • Political context — are there broader issues at stake?
    • Local knowledge — is this likely to have happened in the area in question? Is the space familiar? Is anything standing out as not being consistent with your local knowledge of the area currently?
    • Common sense — often images are real, but are taken out of context or from a different time period. Look at the image. Is anything out of place?

If you are still unsure after taking these steps, here are some simple and free tools you can use to make sure the images you are sharing are accurate:

Check the origin of images with a reverse image search

You can:

    1. Download it and drag it into the search field at images.google.com or tineye.com
    2. If you use Chrome, your browser has a built-in viral image debunker/reverse image search feature
    3. Download the RevEye plugin for Firefox and search all search engines.

For example, the image in the tweet below suggests that a flag was being burned on a particular day in 2014 in Belfast. However, a reverse image search will reveal that it is a scene from Dublin back in 2011.

Check to see if images have been doctored

Tools such as Fotoforensics allow you to digitally analyse an image, including error level analysis and metadata.

Image: https://goo.gl/images/as5wff

For example, the image above appears to show Jeremy Corbyn walking in a funeral procession. In addition to common sense suggesting that it would be unusual for someone in a cortège to be dressed so casually, is he really wearing a t-shirt with the slogan, “I [love] the IRA”? An error level analysis revealed that this image was doctored. Additionally, reverse image search tools, described above, revealed the source of the original image (below).

Photo source: Glamour (UK): http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/jeremy-corbyn-fashion-and-style-lessons

Videos can be checked too

Like images, people can also try to manipulate or misrepresent videos, to make you think it’s something that it’s not. For example, if one post claims a video takes place in one area of Northern Ireland, while another says it doesn’t, you should pause before you decide that you believe it or, indeed, share it.

If a video passes some of the “common sense”, you can use tools like Amnesty International’s YouTube Dataviewer or download the InVid WeVerify browser extension. While the former focuses exclusively on YouTube, the latter allows people to paste a link from YouTube, Facebook or Twitter to get more information about its origins, as well as pull out key frames for further inspection.

Some general tips when assessing information you’re seeing online in Northern Ireland

At FactCheckNI we believe that by asking yourself the following three questions, we can all reduce the likelihood of being misled by false information or unfounded rumours.

Where’s it from?

If you see a post on Facebook, a tweet by an account you don’t recognise, or have a WhatsApp message beginning with “my friend says…”, take a moment. Check who the author is. Question the source. Does the “friend” have a name? Ask yourself why someone has shared the information? A simple check — or a reverse image search — on where something is from can often reveal inconsistencies in the story, or indeed reveal a particular intention or agenda for that piece of (mis)information.

What’s missing?

At FactCheckNI, we alway emphasise the power of “the extra click” — as it can help spot false information. Open another browser tab. Read around a story or piece of information, and make sure you have the whole story. False information and rumours are often crafted in such a way to provide an incomplete picture of a particular situation or issue, and serve a particular narrative. Ask yourself: what are other people saying? Is there more to it?

How does it make you feel? 

The third question is potentially the most important. People who create false information or rumours are trying to manipulate your feelings. They know if you’re angry or upset you’re more likely to share it, or act on it. In periods of uncertainty (such as with regard to protests), false information and rumours thrive on the oxygen of fear. If it’s winding you up, or upsetting you, take the time to check the information.

Claims and dubious images and videos can be brought to FactCheckNI’s attention through our online claim form or by messaging us on WhatsApp.


FactCheckNI is Northern Ireland’s first and only dedicated independent fact-checking service and a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can learn more about about FactCheckNI, our personnel, what our article verdicts mean, and how to submit a claim.