News authentication and tampered images: evaluating the photo-truth impact through image verification algorithms

Heliyon. 2020 Dec 24;6(12):e05808. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e05808. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Photos have been used as evident material in news reporting almost since the beginning of Journalism. In this context, manipulated or tampered pictures are very common as part of informing articles, in today's misinformation crisis. The current paper investigates the ability of people to distinguish real from fake images. The presented data derive from two studies. Firstly, an online cross-sectional survey (N = 120) was conducted to analyze ordinary human skills in recognizing forgery attacks. The target was to evaluate individuals' perception in identifying manipulated visual content, therefore, to investigate the feasibility of "crowdsourced validation". This last term refers to the process of gathering fact-checking feedback from multiple users, thus collaborating towards assembling pieces of evidence on an event. Secondly, given that contemporary veracity solutions are coupled with both journalistic principles and technology developments, an experiment in two phases was employed: a) A repeated measures experiment was conducted to quantify the associated abilities of Media and Image Experts (N = 5 + 5) in detecting tampering artifacts. In this latter case, image verification algorithms were put into the core of the analysis procedure to examine their impact on the authenticity assessment task. b) Apart from conducting interview sessions with the selected experts and their proper guidance in using the tools, a second experiment was also deployed on a larger scale through an online survey (N = 301), aiming at validating some of the initial findings. The primary intent of the deployed analysis and their combined interpretation was to evaluate image forensic services, offered as real-world tools, regarding their comprehension and utilization by ordinary people, involved in the everyday battle against misinformation. The outcomes confirmed the suspicion that only a few subjects had prior knowledge of the implicated algorithmic solutions. Although these assistive tools often lead to controversial or even contradictory conclusions, their experimental treatment with the systematic training in their proper use boosted the participants' performance. Overall, the research findings indicate that the scores of successful detections, relying exclusively on human observations, cannot be disregarded. Hence, the ultimate challenge for the "verification industry" should be to balance between forensic automations and the human experience, aiming at defending the audience from inaccurate information propagation.

Keywords: Content authentication; Digital forensics; Image tampering; Misinformation; Verification assistance algorithms.

Publication types

  • News