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Busting Fake News: Evaluating Online Information: Images & Data Visualizations

Tips for Verifying Images

In 2016, Stanford researchers evaluated students' ability to assess information sources.  Subjects were asked to evaluate a photo of strange-looking flowers, posted on the image hosting site Imgur. The caption reads: "Fukushima Nuclear Flowers: Not much more to say, this is what happens when flowers get nuclear birth defects."

Media consumers should carefully assess photos (and videos!) that may accompany news items.  Tools such as the IMVAIN source analysis (developed by The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University) can help:

Independent Sources Are Better Than Self-Interested Sources
Multiple Sources Are Better Than A Single Source
Sources Who Verify Are Better Than Sources Who assert
Authoritative/Informed Sources Are Better Than Uninformed Sources
Named Sources Are Better Than Unnamed Sources

In this instance, little is known or verifiable about the source of the photo, and as such it should be viewed with skepticism.  Upload the image (or a link to it) to Google Image Search to examine where else the image may have been used, and in what contexts.

Ask questions about the technical qualities of the image.  Is anything about the image distorted?  Could the color or lighting have been adjusted to create a certain effect?  An example of image manipulation along these lines is Time Magazine's darkening of O.J. Simpson's mugshot.

Hurricane Sandy provided many opportunities to test image evaluation skills.  An article by The Atlantic outlines the importance of watching out for older or manipulated photos.

Data and Visualization Resources

Is that graph or chart accurately reflecting the underlying data?

Has the bar chart or line graph in the news story you are consuming been altered to appear to demonstrate something visually that is not true within the underlying data?  Check the axes!  

For these and other "Dos and Don'ts" of data visualization, see Duke University Library's Data Visualization Guide