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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

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.

Far-right figure "Baked Alaska" arrested for involvement in Capitol siege

Photo: Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The FBI arrested far-right media figure Tim Gionet, known as "Baked Alaska," on Saturday for his involvement in last week's Capitol riot, according to a statement of facts filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

The state of play: Gionet was arrested in Houston on charges related to disorderly or disruptive conduct on the Capitol grounds or in any of the Capitol buildings with the intent to impede, disrupt, or disturb the orderly conduct of a session, per AP.