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How to Spot a Fake Video

From The Washington Post

Emily Sabens

March 19, 2021

Have you ever felt like you can’t trust all the video on your newsfeed? Videos are often misrepresented or manipulated these days, with few tools on how to determine what’s real versus fake. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker team put together a guide to teach you how to be your own video investigator.

Types of manipulated video and tips to spot them

To start, learn about the different ways video can be manipulated.

Missing context
Definition: The post lacks or misstates the context in which events occurred. Or, the content of an unaltered video could be false or misleading.

Tip: See if the video is being posted by multiple verified news outlets. Check the description of what happens on screen against reliable sources.

Deceptive editing
Definition: The video has been edited and rearranged.

Tip: Watch for large gaps in time, unexplained transitions or an abrupt edit in the video.

Malicious transformation
Definition: Part or all of the video has been manipulated to transform the footage itself.

Tip: Look for notable signs like blurriness in the foreground or background, pixelation, changes in color, or slower or quicker movements that don’t match normal human behavior. Listen for edited audio, including cutoff speech, sound that’s warped or modulated and speech that sounds slower or faster.

How to find the original video

Videos are often shared, and go viral, on social media without proper credit to the original source or person who filmed the footage. Users will manipulate video and repost their own version of the footage to promote a certain narrative. The first step of the verification process: finding the original video.

This is an important step because it allows you to further analyze the content and source of the video. If you’re watching the original video you can determine whether your video in question has been taken out of context, edited or transformed. You can also move on to next steps like confirming where and when the video was filmed.

Tip 1: Find the source
Run a clear and identifiable screenshot of the video through reverse image search tools like Google and Bing to find other instances of the video posted online. Also look for logos, credit or handles on the footage to find the original source.

Tip 2: Review the source
Review recent posts on the alleged uploader’s account to determine if they were at the event in question.

Tip 3: Do your research
Search through news reports and social media platforms to find more information about the event and look for other videos of the same moment.

Who posted the video?
This step requires some healthy skepticism of users who upload and repost material online. It’s an important step in the process for gaining more knowledge to verify the material. You’ll want to look for clues about their social media footprint that determine whether you can trust them. This review process also includes looking at their other posts to determine if they share manipulated content often.

Tip 1: InVid search
If the video was shared on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, you can drop the link into InVid to find out if there is anything suspicious about the uploader’s account. For instance, it can be a red flag if they just opened an account. Or a good sign if they have a Twitter-verified account.

Tip 2: Other posts
Review the user’s other posts. Do they often share videos, images or stories with a strong political leaning? This is a clue their videos could promote a certain narrative.

Tip 3: Social footprint
Look through the user’s other social media profiles and any linked websites or affiliations. Be wary if they have a history of posting other manipulated content.

Where was the video filmed?

People often misrepresent video during major breaking news events by posting incorrect information about where and when a video was filmed. You’ll always want to verify the location of video, a task known as geolocation.

This step is important as false information on a video’s location can change the story. We rely on visuals to tell us about natural disasters and protests, to name a few examples. Misidentifying location for video of these events misconstrues the reality of the situation for those watching from afar. Verifying where a video is filmed ensures the right set of facts to illustrate the story.

Tip 1: Landmarks
Search for identifiable landmarks like street signs, unique or well-known buildings, or environmental features like mountains or trees. These distinguishable features can help you pinpoint a location quickly.

Tip 2: Sketch
Draw a map of your video so you know what you’re looking for in terms of shapes of buildings, skylines, roads and landscape.

Tip 3: Google Maps
Once you have some clues to base your search on, look them up in Google Earth or Google Maps’ Street View. Cross-reference your sketch to the map to find the right match.

Tip 4: Confirm
After you have found a likely match for your video, look for other identifiable landmarks, ideally three at a minimum, that show up in the video and map location.

When was the video filmed?

In the same way users misrepresent location of video, they use incorrect context for the timing of a video. For example in extreme weather events that repeat themselves, like hurricane or fires, people will post visuals from past years that might not correctly show the reality of the current situation. After geo-locating a video, you’ll want to verify the time the video was filmed, to confirm it is being represented properly.

Misidentifying time of a video can manipulate the narrative, if it’s years, days or even minutes off. In our reporting we try to confirm down to the second when a video was filmed to make sure we are reconstructing an event as precisely as possible. Confirming when a video was filmed ensures viewers are understanding an accurate illustration of what’s happening on the ground.

Tip 1: Giveaways
Make sure to look for obvious indications of time captured in videos, such as clocks, time stamps or phone screens. Also keep an eye out for subtler clues about general time of day. For example, if street lamps are on, it’s most likely early morning or evening.

Tip 2: Lighting
If the video was taken outside, analyze the lighting and shadows to see where the sun is positioned in the video to try to determine the time of day.

Tip 3: Weather
Review the clothes people are wearing in the video and check them against weather reports from that day.

Tip 4: Other sources
Compare the video to other verified sources from that event to confirm the time.


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