Jul 18, 2017

We aren't very good at spotting fake photos

Sophie Nightingale/University of Warwick

Fake photos abound and, unfortunately, we don't seem to be particularly good at spotting them: about one-third of doctored photos went undetected by participants in a new study.

Why it matters: Photos — admitted as evidence in courts, used to bolster positions in campaigns and to diagnose conditions — can shape our memories and beliefs. They're being altered in sophisticated ways that, if undetected, could have profound consequences.

"Pretty much everybody is susceptible to falling for fake images, which was surprising," says lead author Sophie Nightingale from the University of Warwick.

What they did: In two experiments, Nightingale asked more than 1300 people total whether 10 photos were altered or originals. The images of real-world scenes were manipulated in two different ways: physically implausible manipulations like shadows from two sources, and plausible ones like whitening teeth or adding trash cans to the picture.

  • On average, people could classify the photos correctly 60% of the time in the first experiment (and 65% in the second) — slightly better than the odds of a 50/50 guess.
  • Even when they recognized something was wrong with an image, participants in the first study could correctly identify what had been manipulated only 45% of the time on average.
  • Test yourself here.

What's next: The researchers are looking into whether people can be trained to better spot forged images, Nightingale told Axios. For example, when forgers change an image they may leave tell tale signs in the shadows. Computers can look at the position of light and find what has been manipulated. The researchers want to know if people can be taught to do this, too.

Go deeper: Altering images can be laborious (Nightingale notes the study included only 10 manipulated images because of the time and skill required to doctor them) but soon computers will likely be creating fakes — and detecting them.

Go deeper

In photos: Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Venice Beach in Los Angeles on May 24. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Authorities warned Americans to take precautions against the coronavirus pademic amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

The big picture: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, authorities on Florida's Gulf Coast closed parking lots because they were full and there were crowded scenes at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri, per AP, which reports a shooting injured several people at a packed Daytona Beach in Florida.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 5,405,029 — Total deaths: 344,997 — Total recoveries — 2,168,408Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 1,642,021 — Total deaths: 97,698 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 54 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans sue California over mail-out ballot plan

California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a February news conference in Sacramento, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Trump accused Democrats of trying "Rig" November's general election as Republican groups filed a lawsuit against California Sunday in an attempt to stop Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) from mailing ballots to all registered voters.

Driving the news: Newsom signed an executive order this month in response to the coronavirus pandemic ensuring that all registered voters in the state receive a mail-in ballot.