Subject:The Case of the Bad News 
Duration:15 minutes (estimated)
Each of these pictures comes from a news story. Can you identify how these pictures were edited?

News #1

News #2

News #3

Click on each picture to open it in FotoForensics.

  • News #1: Originally hosted at Bloomberg, this photo purports to show US marines participating in a military drill on 10-Feb-2012. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • News #2: Following the 2010 shooting death of Oscar Grant, California Beat reported on press statements made by Grant's uncle, Cephus Johnson. (Jennifer Courtney/CALIFORNIA BEAT)

  • News #3: On 13-Dec-2014, posted a satirical op-ed (by author "drhumor"), showing Polish President Komorowski kissing the hand of former communist leader Jaruzelski. This picture quickly went viral and was picked up by news outlets and various forums.

For this challenge:

  1. First evaluate each picture visually (without any algorithms). Can you see any modifications?
  2. Using FotoForensics and Error Level Analysis (ELA), can you identify how each picture was altered?
  3. Can you identify what was altered in each picture? Keep in mind: there may be multiple alterations per picture.
The provided answers are per news picture, and not per question. Determine your response for each picture before looking at the answer:

Answers for News #1
Without any tools, you might notice an abrupt edge where an artificial blur ends around the people.

ELA highlights a very bright area that is significantly different from the background. The soldier and a section of grass in the lower left are at a different compression level than the rest of the picture. The modification appears to be a selective sharpening around the people and an intentionally blurring of the background and foreground.

If there were any other modifications, then they cannot be identified using ELA. For example, blurring the background removes compression-level artifacts and results in a darker ELA result.

More subtle: the artificial blurring was added in layers. The two heads on the left are at different compression levels compared to the blurrier background and two sharper soldiers on the right.
 Answers for News #2
Without any analysis tools, you probably did not notice any alterations.

With ELA, we can identify that Cephus Johnson (photo-right) was digitally altered. His face and part of his jacket were sharpened.

Undetected by ELA: The overall color tone of the picture was changed, giving the reporters on the left more reddish faces. The color adjustment also changed Johnson's skin tone.

In addition, the picture was cropped. A person's head on the left and the Channel 2 attribution on the microphone were cut out of the picture. Here is the uncropped and unaltered camera preview picture:


(The microphone in the preview picture has a high ELA result because it is very high contrast. Nothing else in the picture has that same high-contrast pattern.)
Answers for News #3
ELA shows that the President was digitally altered. The source picture shows the two men shaking hands.


For the modification, the artist digitally removed the President and replaced him with a different photo. In the altered image, you can still see the President's upright shadow covering the man in the red tie.

The source picture is not camera-original. The metadata shows that it was post-processed by an Adobe product. This post processing caused the high contrast edges on the blue tie and tinted glasses to have a higher ELA result.

The final question is more general:
  1. In general, what is the impact to a news story when significantly altered pictures are used?
Answer #4
Media outlets use pictures to augment facts related to the story. If the picture is digitally modified, then the facts become fictionalized. If you cannot trust the picture to convey the truth, then it calls into question all facts related to the story.

With the soldier picture, Getty Images makes no effort to identify the modifications. If the picture is biased to focus our attention and blur details, then so is every news story that uses this picture. It also calls into question the credibility of other pictures from Getty Images.

The news interview was similarly altered to selectively crop out facts and alter appearances.

While the Presidential picture was originally posted as satire, other outlets failed to vet the picture and made no attempt to denote it as a fictionalized photo. This includes Newsweek (Polish edition).

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