How to authenticate a picture on the internet

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Sometimes things happen during the routine course of the week, and suddenly I realize – that’s a good topic for a blog post.  That’s what happened this past week.

picture authentication

If you’re on Facebook, you know there is a high volume of pure garbage that gets “Liked” and shared.  I’m not necessarily talking about content that is inappropriate (although there is a lot of that too).  What I’m referring to are all the “news” stories that are just plain fake.  And especially the photos.

And the sad thing is, people post this crap because they actually believe it’s genuine and true.  They see it posted by one of their friends, and the story generates some kind of emotion (sadness, anger, fear, whatever – it doesn’t really matter).  So they must immediately share it with all of their friends as well.  And of course there is no research done to check and see if what they are spreading around has any truth to it.

Here is what I saw this past week.  Someone I am friends with on Facebook posted a link to a news article.  The article was titled “Muslims crucify two teen boys for being Christians” and had a graphic image of a young man who was supposedly one of the guys talked about in the article.  It’s not an “extremely” graphic image (you can see the image here and the article that used it is here).

The important thing, however, is that the image is not even a genuine part of the article.  The article writer (I won’t call him a “journalist”) just grabbed an image from a different news story and used it in his own article.  The image was actually originally published a few weeks prior to when this article used it.

So that brings up the question – how do you know when a website article or blog post is using an image that genuinely goes with the story?  After all, if they’re faking the picture, it really casts doubt on everything else in the story too.

There is probably more than one way to check on this.  But the easiest way is to use Google Chrome (that’s Google’s web browser – just another program to view websites, like Firefox and Internet Explorer).  Chrome is a free download, and it’s the browser I use most of the time now.  (Firefox is a close second, and Internet Explorer is a distant third.)

Here’s how to use Chrome to authenticate a picture:

Do a right-click on the image, and in the menu that appears, choose “Search Google for this image”.

At that point, Google will check and see where else this image has appeared recently.   You might be surprised at the results!

In the example I mentioned above, the story about the 2 young men who had supposedly been crucified for not renouncing their Christianity, the picture that was used had actually come from a different earlier news story that had nothing to do with the one that was posted on Facebook.  I figured this out in the 5 seconds it takes to do this simple process in Chrome.

In addition to verifying the truth of a news article, there are other uses for this little trick:

Craigslist shopping – Maybe you’re shopping for a car on Craigslist, and you come across what seems like an incredible deal.  Low mileage, good condition, fairly new, and priced WAY too low.  Is it real or is it a scam post?  Most scammers on Craigslist don’t just pick one location to post their fake ads.  They post in a lot of different locations.  So you can search Google for the pictures in the ad.  If you see those same pictures in ads in your city as well as other places throughout the US, it’s a scam.

Your website – If you have a website and you publish original content, including images, there’s a chance that someone might come across your site and take one of  your images to use on their site.  Or they might take several.  How would you know, unless you checked on it?  In the past, I have found people taking my content and reposting it, word for word, as their own.   A quick Google search on some of your own original images can help you find out if this is happening, so you can take action to stop it.

And now, just for your entertainment, some pictures that were once widely believed to be genuine, and later turned out to be fakes:

This picture was supposedly found in a camera that was in the rubble of the World Trade Center after the attack on September 11, 2001.  It’s fake.

fake picture


After Hurricane Irene, this picture emerged and went viral, showing a shark swimming in the flooded streets of Puerto Rico.  It’s fake.

fake picture


And finally – check out this tennis court.  The interesting part about this photo is that it is actually real.  The big circle is actually a helicopter landing area in Dubai.  They set it up as a tennis court for a match between Andre Agassi and Roger Federer in 2005 (story here).

image authentication


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June 3rd, 2014

This post was almost necessary with the amount of phony pictures that go viral due to social media. Kind of sickening if you ask me. Also, are you the computer tutor I’ve heard on podnutz before?

– Jesse from RI Computer Repair

Scott Johnson
June 3rd, 2014

Thanks Jesse – yes, I am on the Podnutz forum sometimes and I did an interview on the podcast with Door a while back.

Ron Williams
June 8th, 2014

Hi, Scott.

It seems the latest version of Chrome does not have this ability built-in. You have to install an add-in called “Search by Image for Google” in order for the right-click on an image trick to work. At least that’s the only way *I* could get it to work! 🙂

Best regards, Ron

Scott Johnson
June 8th, 2014

I don’t know, Ron – it works with my Chrome and I don’t have that extension installed.