Storyful Blog

That's not Sandy: How to spot a fake image in three easy steps

Wowzah! Check out this image of Hurricane Sandy hitting NYC! Almost too good to be true, right? Well, more than almost, actually. It’s a fake, a photoshopped version of a shot by stormchaser Mike Hollingshead that dates back to 2004.  But it’s been all over Twitter today, tweeted and retweeted thousands of times, even by established members of the journalism community.

Twitter, in its marvelous self-correcting fashion, has been quick to debunk, and forced some to remove the image from their timeline and correct the error:

But this was not the only fake image doing the rounds on Monday as Instagram users went into a frenzy of photosharing, posting ten images of Hurricane Sandy per second, according to Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom.

Not all of the photos were photoshopped, but just because a photo is real, doesn’t mean it shows what you think it shows.

The photograph above turned out to be genuine, but here’s the catch: it was taken in September, way before Sandy reared its ugly head.

So how do you avoid getting caught up in the speedy Sandy photo frenzy, and caught out by an errant retweet? Follow these three steps, for a start.

1. Wondering about the history of an image? Download it, or copy its URL, and use Google Image Search to throw up its online footprint.

Simply go to, click on the camera icon, and drag, upload or post the URL of the desired image in to the browser.  It’s also worth installing the ‘Search by image (Google)’ browser extension, which, once installed, allows you to look up an image with a quick click of the mouse.

One simple right click on the top image in this story threw up a lengthy history, which included links to sites that showed it to have been previously debunked as a doctored photograph:

Which led to the site and Mike Hollinghurst’s 2004 photograph from Nebraska:

Nebraska photograph on, courtesy of Mike Hollinghurst.

Look familiar?

2. Another option for image searches is TinEye, a reverse image site which allows users to sort results by image size and by how much it’s been modified. It came up with an immediate hit for the second photograph above, purporting to show Sandy “descending in New York”. The first return on a search dates the image as having been taken in the week of April 22 to 29, 2011. Whether that’s true or not is another question, but it’s safe to establish that whatever it is, it’s certainly not Sandy. Though TinEeye may not always throw up as many results as Google’s version, it’s still been known to show alternative results and as such is often worth using as an additional tool to cast the hoax net as widely as possible.

3. Before you retweet, check with the source. If you see someone sending out an image, make contact, and ask them about it. Did they take the photograph themselves? If so, get details. Though this may not unmask a barefaced liar, it’s liable to winnow out those who are passing on unverified shots or someone just trying to catch folk out with a little canny photoshopping.

And while we’re on the subject of hoaxes, a word about video. Though much of Monday’s talk was about photoshopping and still images, news organizations need to ask the same questions about video as amateur filmmakers and citizen journalists get busy documenting Sandy. How do you know the video you’re watching is authentic? Can you be sure it’s of Hurricane Sandy, and not some previous storm? It’s worth paying close attention to the uploader’s history, and tallying the purported location with Google Maps of the area. For further tips on how to verify video, check out our previous blogpost on our validation process here.

So bring your skepticism to Sandy even as social media buzzes with instant, awe-inspiring updates. Because you really, really don’t want your name on a tweet that ends up on a site like this one.

BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski learned the hard way, and on Monday had a question for the tweeting masses for which Neal Mann, Social Media Editor at the Wall Street Journal, had an immediate answer:

Journalists, be on your guard.




7 comments on “That's not Sandy: How to spot a fake image in three easy steps

  1. Bberchekasjr955
    October 30, 2012

    I agree with Andrew Kaczynski…

  2. Jamie Tanner
    October 30, 2012

    I agree with Neal Mann…

  3. Ruairi Carroll
    October 30, 2012 This one includes a Day After Tomorrow screengrab

  4. Pingback: A moving target: How video of Sandy tells its own story | Storyful Blog

  5. Pingback: This Week in Review – Nieman Journalism Lab | The Journalism Site

  6. Pingback: Frankenstorm: l’uragano Sandy e le sue foto fasulle « All my images

  7. Pingback: Ted talk: The truth in the real-time web | Storyful Blog

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This entry was posted on October 29, 2012 by in Uncategorized.


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