The debate around policing false and misleading content on social media has been top of mind for politicians and policy-makers with the federal election fast approaching.
Last month, an altered video of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had been slowed down to make her appear to slur her words became a lightning rod for the issue after it was shared across Facebook millions of times.
Facebook Canada executives were grilled on the video by a panel of politicians from 11 countries last month but refused to take it down.
Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook Canada, said it’s not the platform’s job to determine the line between “free speech” and “censorship.”
“If lawmakers, in their wisdom, want to draw the line somewhere north or south of censorship, we would obviously oblige with local law,” Chan told the committee.
Now that manipulating photos and videos is easier than ever before, how is the average user supposed to navigate social media platforms, which have become battlegrounds for misinformation?
Here are some tips from experts when encountering content on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
Consider the source
Padraic Ryan, head of news intelligence at Storyful, said that when assessing content on social media, it’s important to look at the source’s digital footprint (trail of user data), the account’s history and any related social profiles or websites.
“Does that person have a history of posting reliable material or, for instance, does the person have a history of posting very obviously copied material or very obviously manipulated material?” Ryan said.
Storyful works with media companies — including Global News — to help verify breaking news and video around the world.
WATCH: Trudeau warns social media regulation could be used to repress citizens, stifle free speech
Ryan said the Pelosi video was an interesting case, as it was quite apparent it had been altered. He said people who want to avoid falling for false or misleading content should challenge their beliefs when confronted with this kind of material.
“It spread rapidly because it fitted with people’s agendas,” Ryan said. “People need to ask themselves: are they happy to knowingly spread false information simply because it serves the political end? And would they be happy if other people, who perhaps were their political opponents, were doing something similar?”
Look at the date and location
Ryan said the other two important questions when interrogating content online are where was the photo taken, and what was the date?
“Our approach would be to encourage people to truly question their own take on something and to question whether something that seems too good to be true,” he said.
An infamous example of this was an image posted to Instagram that alleged to show a child in Syria sleeping between his parents’ graves. It went viral, with people, including politicians, discussing it and even news agencies reporting on it.
A second photo released by the account revealed it was actually an art project, and the child was the photographer’s nephew.
Other things to think about are:
- When was the source account created?
- Does the account look real?
- How often does the account post?
- What is the account’s connection to the story?
Facebook Canada has unveiled a searchable advertising database that will give users a detailed look at how political parties and interest groups are spending money on Facebook and Instagram ahead of the 2019 election.
Advertisers on Facebook will also have to confirm their identity and prove they are based in Canada. One of those steps involves Canada Post and “snail mail” to ensure that those who want to place political ads have a Canadian address.
The new measures are part of the company’s response to Bill C-76, the update to Canada’s federal election laws passed last December.
Spotting fake tweets or Twitter accounts
When U.S. President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey in 2017, a tweet alleged to be from Comey that said “the pee tape is real” quickly began trending across Twitter.
Except the tweet wasn’t real.
A screenshotted tweet of someone saying something scandalous or compelling can fool anyone, but there are steps you can take to make sure you are not had.
READ MORE: Beware reports based on screenshotted tweets
Look for the original tweet and ask yourself whether or not you trust the source.
When on Twitter, look for these hallmarks of a fake account:
- Beware the egg: Has the person taken the time to upload a photo, or is it a picture of the default egg image?
- Stock images: Right-click on the profile image and run it through Google Images to find out if the same image is being used elsewhere.
- Where is the bio: Bios help followers know who you are. Accounts without them are a sign the account could be fake.
- High volume: Look for an unrealistic number of tweets. More than 150,000 is a good sign of a fake account. Trump, a big fan of the platform, has tweeted just over 47,000 times.
- Duplicate tweets: If the tweets are all @replies with the same text, that’s a good indication you have a bot account.
How to spot deepfake videos
Director Jordan Peele and BuzzFeed teamed up to make a PSA about the threat of the latest artificial intelligence being used to manipulate videos.
In the video, Peele ventriloquizes former U.S. president Barack Obama, who appears to discuss Black Panther and call Trump “a total and complete dips**t.”
The video was made using a combination of technology like Adobe After Effects and the AI face-swapping tool FakeApp.
While some researchers are working to develop tools to spot so-called deepfake videos, there are some steps everyone can take to become more media savvy.
Questions to ask yourself when seeing a provocative video are:
- Where does this come from? Who is sharing it?
- Have any legitimate media outlets corroborated it?
- Does it even look or sound real? Signs of distortion and blurring can be clues the video is fake.
- Would the person in the video actually say those things?
Real or fake news websites?
Since the 2016 U.S. election, websites masquerading as legitimate news sites have been widely debated, criticized and read.
The story, complete with fake quotes from Trudeau, was shared across Reddit and Facebook. Although the story was quickly discredited by the High Commission in Abuja, it renewed the debate about combating fake news.
If you want to avoid these types of sites, here are some tips:
- Look at the domain or URL: Sites with endings like .com.co should raise eyebrows.
- Read the “About Us” or “Principles and Practices” pages: Most news outlets will have sections about the company that runs them and a journalistic ethics statement. Also, look for information about the organization in places other than that site.
- Look at who is quoted: Are they a reputable source with a title that you can verify through a quick Google search?
- What articles are being published? Look for a healthy cross-section of articles on different subjects. If they are all about George Soros, think twice about the site.
Other helpful websites to help in verification
- Spokeo: Can help dig up more about the digital footprint of individuals in the U.S. like social media accounts, email addresses and other contact information
- Who.Is: Can help find more information about a website’s owner
- Google Maps: Helps check the location of a video and cross-reference landmarks or features
- Tineye and Google reverse image search: Can help ensure that pictures being portrayed as one thing haven’t been used elsewhere
- Flickr or Jeffrey’s Exif viewer: Can help analyze metadata to determine location, the date an image was taken and other information
- YouTube Data Viewer: Created by Amnesty International, this tool shows a video’s exact upload date and time, provides users with thumbnail images and also has the ability to search Google
- Muck Rack: Lists thousands of journalists who are vetted by a team of Muck Rack editors
- Linkedin: Compiles work history to provide additional means to track an individual down and verify the person’s identity or story
—With files from Patrick Cain