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Simple Tools that Enable Anyone to Uncover Fabricated Information
Posted on Sep 16, 2020 |
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The COVID-19 virus and the Beirut Port explosion were two new tests of how people, as well as the media, responded to the spread of fabricated news. Unfortunately, both incidents revealed the vulnerability of some in rejecting misleading information, as well as the ability to create rumors exploited for political and/or personal purposes.

Contrary to the prevailing belief that only a specialized journalist can put an end to the spread of fabricated information, technological development has allowed everyone to access free open-use tools, through which one can confirm what is going on in the "Infodemic" world.
the Author
Journalist and news verification trainer
Simple Tools that Enable Anyone to Uncover Fabricated Information

The COVID-19 virus and the Beirut Port explosion were two new tests of how people, as well as the media, responded to the spread of fabricated news. Unfortunately, both incidents revealed the vulnerability of some in rejecting misleading information, as well as the ability to create rumors exploited for political and/or personal purposes.

Contrary to the prevailing belief that only a specialized journalist can put an end to the spread of fabricated information, technological development has allowed everyone to access free open-use tools, through which one can confirm what is going on in the "Infodemic" world.

During the first months of 2020, it was noticeable how a wide range of news websites in Lebanon carried news, without mentioning any source or even verifying the information, which were mostly used as part of political/religious accusations; including allegations of deliberate transmission of the virus from neighboring countries, or allegations of finding containers of the virus inside some embassies, or even the transmission of the virus through parcels coming from China.

The same is true with the spread of panic during the circulation of a photomontage screen shot[i], which was said to originate from the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) to warn about “the necessity to stay at home because the port explosion released toxic nitric acid gases”. This was denied by the Medical Center[ii] which published several explanations for not issuing any statement on the matter.

On the other hand, there was a prominent condescending view formed by some due to their lack of knowledge of the virus and its methods of spreading, and which particularly targeted people with Asian features, the "Coronaphobia”. And its damage was revealed when visiting Chinese student Wang Yu, who refers to himself as "Amir Wang," broke his silence.

He complained through a Video on the racism of some[iii] who addressed him in abusive terms, causing him to fear the possibility of violent reactions, which led him to refrain from leaving his residence, before being embraced again, after the spread of his message, amidst his confirmation that the main reason behind the negative feelings was the media exaggeration associated with the spread of misinformation about COVID-19.

The same thing happened again after the huge explosion that occurred in the capital city of Beirut, on the evening of the 4th of August, with the spread of allegations accompanying various incorrect or fabricated videos[iv] that the port was targeted by an air missile. The inspection shows that they all transmitted mismatched sightings of the alleged missile[v], and that most of what was seen was actually a group of birds[vi], and that the objective of their publication was, apparently, to induce the interaction and rapid fame from “Like” and Share”.

Therefore, anyone can counter the spread of misinformation, in steps that are not exclusive to specialists or technicians, including:

● Thinking logically and consciously

Users re-post messages that they consider useful to others, but often this information is re-shared without checking the content of these messages, even if what they read really makes sense.

Among those messages is when posing as a company or an institution and asking users to access links to get free internet packages or financial assistance [vii], claiming that it is "a gift to the medical personnel " [viii], or that it is a  result of "the current difficult situation."[ix] This is what “Alfa”[x] and “Touch”[xi] have always denied, while asserting that they will only address users "through their official channels". And also the Internal Security Forces [xii] who repeatedly warned of suspicious electronic links which might be targeting "access to personal data… for later use in fraudulent acts."

In a related context, it must always be borne in mind that there are always techniques and means of fabrication that one may not be adequately aware of, contributing in one way or another to the production of fabricated materials.

We refer here, to a video which is said to be done in "thermal imaging"[xiii] technology, showing a missile approaching the port of Beirut before the big explosion took place, to prove later that it has nothing to do with thermal imaging, but merely the use of the "inverted colors"[xiv] technique found even in mobile phones, to which a picture of a missile approaching the ground was added later. It was revealed that the original video, in real colors, was taken by a CNN employee[xv], and there was no trace of the alleged missile.

● Verifying the sources

Users occasionally receive "compelling" texts that are usually accompanied by links to websites, to convince the reader that the references are correct, but a quick look at those links may reveal that the information does not match,[xvi] and sometimes even belongs to unofficial and questionable entities.

The Google Chrome browser, on the phone or computer, allows the translation of any text that appears on the screen, helping to verify information written in a language other than Arabic.

Also, the main keywords of any information can always be copied and pasted inside Google.com to conduct a search that reveals the actual source of the news, if any, and even the date of the information's first appearance on the internet. This is what happened repeatedly with some fabricated statements, falsely attributed[xvii] to Health Minister Hamad Hassan about the lockdown of cities and districts where there was a COVID-19 outbreak.

Among the fabricated news that spread due to the belief of all what is posted on WhatsApp, is that "An-Nahar" newspaper quoted on January 29 "Reuters" News Agency [xviii] reporting that "a strong secrecy surrounds the news of the death of a demonstrator in Beirut's largest hospital from Coronavirus". It turned out later that what was being circulated was part of an extensive report published on the newspaper’s website[xix] indicating that the news of Reuters itself was fabricated.

As with regards to the verification of photographs, the "Reverse Image Search" app can be used for instance on Android[xx] or iOS[xxi], allowing a reverse image search, through the most popular search engines Google, Bing and Yandex.

This technique was used to confirm one of the images that spread at the time of the Beirut port explosion, amid allegations that "the (Israeli) occupation media is publishing an aerial image of the explosion site"[xxii], but it was later revealed that the image belonged to an earlier explosion in 2015 in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin.

Of course, it is not possible to overlook the problems of the circulation of videos, which may not be related to Lebanon or are old, but recirculated again with different content. For example, when a clip was published[xxiii] at the end of February, with the beginning of the spread of COVID-19 in Lebanon, entitled "Look who was in Iran!"[xxiv] showing Speaker Nabih Berri, it was discovered later that the video was filmed during Berri’s presence in the city of Karbala, Iraq, during a visit in April 2019.[xxv]

One of the most important tools that can help detect the falsity of videos is “InVID”. Any video file or link can be entered to view what appears on it, as well as the hidden information (Metadata) that it may contain.

Of course, the most important advice remains that any news should be viewed as false until proven otherwise.

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Sep 2020
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