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Evaluating Online Information

Observing and Understanding Images

Images are an important component of our daily news and media exposures. Truly understand, interpret, and analyze an image is the foundation of evaluating visual information in any form of information encounter.

Before jumping to the interpretation, here are some tips for observing and understanding images:

How to look?

Taking time to notice more than what meets the eye at first glance: Give yourself time to see all of the details, including people, objects, and activities. You cannot research or interpret an image accurately if you do not understand it.

What to ask?

Content and Physical details: Who, what objects, and what activities are pictured? When was the image created? What feelings or thoughts does the image bring? What are the point of view, the focus, and the central message?

Authenticity: Check for any manipulative strategies and technical changes being applied to the image. This includes any sign of editing and photoshopping on image distortion or adjusting colors and light to create certain effects.

An example of image manipulation along these lines is Time Magazine's darkening of O.J. Simpson's mugshot.


Captions, metadata, and citation information: Try verifying the text accompanying the image and search for the citation information. If you cannot find the original source of the image, it is likely that the image resource is not reliable.

An example of evaluating images with vague accompanying text is the Stanford research on students’ ability to access 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."  Successful students questioned the source of the post and the credentials of the individual who posted the photo (especially since it appeared on a site where anyone can post photos), whether the photo was taken near the power plant, or whether nuclear radiation caused the daisies' unusual growth. 

Analyzing and Evaluating Images


While understanding the content and physical qualities of an image, you should also consider the context. Questions you should ask yourself when analyzing a news image include:

  • What major events are/were happening when this image was created?
  • What can you tell about the world and time period from this image (the landscape, the economic conditions, the moods and emotions of the crowd, etc.)?
  • What is missing from the image?
  • What element, if present, can help you better understand the image?

Find the Original Source/Reverse Search

You can identify the original source of an image by doing a reverse image search. Reverse image search can be useful when trying to locate information about the creator, creation time, and attribution of an image. Try the following Reverse Image Searching Tools:

TinEye Reverse Image Search

Reverse Google Image Search

Image Manipulation

Image Manipulation strategies are becoming more common and sophisticated. There are hidden signs that show an image might be an altered image. As you become familiar with some of the signs of image manipulation, go to Fauxtography and try for yourself.