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How Can Critical Thinking Help Identify Altered Images?

Khadija Boufous Khadija Boufous
21st February 2022
How Can Critical Thinking Help Identify Altered Images?
Having a critical eye is crucial to identify manipulated visual content (Getty)

“A picture is worth ten thousand words.” Images do carry information and feelings to affect others’ opinions and mindsets. Pictures can spread motivation and good vibes or propaganda, manipulation, and misinformation.

Images are the first tool in generating fake stories and making them viral. People usually believe what they feel using their five senses. A picture can be seen and felt. It carries emotions and builds opinions. Fake news generators rely on attaching relevant images missing context to their fake stories to attract people who can share or circulate them on social media.

The new era of digital technology has shown that anyone can create visually compelling photographic fakes and spread them at an incredible speed. A study about people’s ability to detect geometrical inconsistencies has confirmed the limited ability to uncover original and manipulated images. And even after the detection, many people could not locate the manipulation on the picture.

Modern technologies have offered easy ways to work on images. A picture can undergo simple changes related to colors and lighting using programs and software. It can also completely change when adding or removing content. Mastering the photo editing software prevents the identification of digitally altered images. It is, therefore, crucial to have a critical eye while dealing with visual information or news.

In his book “Stop Reading The News,” Rolf Dobelli has mentioned that it is much harder, these days, to distinguish between truthful, unbiased news items and those with an ulterior motive.

The author has cited that hyper-intelligent computers can already create images and video clips. He added that “within a few years, only artificial intelligence will be able to tell which news items have been generated by computers and which have not.”

Many researchers have demonstrated that the escalating amount of pictures and videos circulating over social media made it harder to filter the content, especially during the COVID-19 period, causing an infodemic. Hadil Abuhmaid, a doctoral candidate at the School of Journalism and Communication, has cited, in a report on fake news in the Middle East and North Africa regions, that numerous organizations have started offering workshops, training, and guidance for young adults to increase awareness. The writer has insisted on the crucial rule of developing critical thinking that can help distinguish between truth and lies and even between facts and opinions, looking forward to a widespread introduction of media education for younger people in schools.

Most people usually think of software and programs when they hear about debunking pictures. However, the first thing a fact-checker starts with while debunking an image is critical thinking for accurate and keen observation.

Critical thinking is the process of actively conceptualizing, analyzing, and evaluating information generated during an observation, experience, or reflection. It means the ability to think clearly and rationally, focusing on understanding the logical connections between ideas. It also can be described as “the way of engaging a reflective and independent thinking.”

Many tips are using critical thinking to spot fake pictures and visual materials. First of all, observing reflections because a limited knowledge of photo editing software may affect the appropriate manipulation of shadow and mirror reflections, causing low-quality images.

A fake image can be a digital compilation altered of identical patterns. Color, brightness, and contrast differences can also help spot fake pictures, especially when an object or a person is inserted into another image.

At an advanced stage of debunking images, most fact-checkers use Google Image Reverse Search to spot a fake picture by uploading it from the device or using a link, and Google will display the results. Reverse Image Search can help, especially in the case of debunking an image circulating in a missing or out of context. 

Since a fabricated image debunking depends on logical analysis, developing critical thinking becomes crucial. Looking up an image means examining objects that may have been inserted or removed. Zooming into an image can help identify a weirdness and avoid false positives. The process should lead us to question the date of posting the picture and whether it was taken at night or during the day. Statues and flags can also help spot the location. 

Developing critical thinking and media literacy can easily prevent the spread of fake news and misinformation, especially when it comes to pictures and visual materials. Moreover, adopting a highly visual culture and photography knowledge is vital in spotting altered and generated images.


Misbar’s Sources:

Semrush Blog
Popular Science
Bright Side
Skills You Need
Critical Thinking