August 13, 2006
Can you trust what you see?
I’ve refrained from commenting on the Reuters Photochopping debacle, figuring I didn’t have much new or valuable to add to the discussion. I’m not sure I do now, but Jim Lewis’ Don’t Believe What You See in the Papers offers good perspective on the long history of manipulated (and manipulative) news photography. He links to Dr. Hany Farid’s interesting tampering gallery, where the chronology suggests that fakery is growing more common.
As I’ve noted previously, Adobe has been working with Dr. Farid & his team on technology to detect digital manipulation. Its arrival in mainstream tools will take some time, and even then it’s powerless against images that mislead in other ways. I’m reminded of the aerial shots in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 Bay Area earthquake, zoomed in on a single burning block that suggested more massive devastation; or Fox News’ decision last year during an LA blackout to zoom in on a fiery exhaust plume at an area factory–never mind that it’s that smokestack’s natural state 24/7.
A lack of context and clarification may be ultimately more damaging than faked pixels, given that it’s subjective & maybe impossible to prove. Technology may help sniff out forgeries, but it has to go hand in hand with the audience seeking out multiple, diverse sources of news.
[Update: Rob Galbraith has collected a variety of additional perspectives on the topic.]