Not all viral photos are real: how to spot fake news

Not all photos that go viral are real. There are a lot of images out there that have been Photoshopped, either intentionally designed to deceive the viewer or as a bit of fun. To give you a taste of what’s happening, here are some of the most popular viral photos, and this video includes the fake viral photo alongside the real photo before it was edited:

So what can you do when looking online to know if a photo is real news or fake news?

When it comes to photos going viral online there are a lot of fake photos out there. Why do we share that stuff?

It might have something to do with the fact that we are now so overloaded with news and information that we don’t have time to fact check. It’s like we get hit with a deluge of stuff, and we find it hard to cope, so we share material without checking it first.

So before you go and share that photo online take the time to slow down, and ask yourself these two questions:
1. Is it real?
2. Am I sure it’s real?!

One of the easiest ways to check if a viral photo is fake news or not is to do an image search on Google.

There are a few different ways to do an image search on Google:

Upload an image:
Go to, and click Search by image Search by image.
Click on Upload an image, and then click Choose File.
Select the image from your computer.

Use the Google Chrome brower and right-click an image you find online:
Click on Search Google for image, and then a new tab will open in your browser to show you the results.
Search through the images, and you will either find a page that explains whether the photo is a fake, or you may find two different photos that were obviously combined to create one new one.

Here’s a video to show you how that’s done:

Do a quick fact check online:

Most fake photos that go viral are quickly exposed on one of the fact checking sites. So if you find a photo that you’re dubious about, go to your favorite search engine and type in something like:

Is photo of dog juggling baseball bats a hoax?

That’s usually going to give you a result.

Look for an official comment from the source:

Sometimes you’ll see photos that are edits of images shared by legitimate companies and organizations. If an image of theirs is manipulated and goes viral they’ll often release a statement about it to point out what’s really going on.

For example, earlier this year this photo from Kansas City went viral, with everyone have a good old laugh about this spelling error on a sign:

As funny as it was it was also a fake photo, with @VisitKC dropping a comment in to say:


This is a site that is well-known for debunking fake images. It’s definitely worth looking at if you come across a super popular image on social media. Head straight to their page on Fauxtography for the latest fake photos.

Try Twitter:

One of the best Twitter accounts for analyzing fake photos is @PicPedant. They include links and details about the original images that were Photoshopped to create the fake image.

Another great site to check is the Twitter account @hoaxoffame. Unfortunately the site is not updated as often as we’d like, but it still has a great collection of fake photos and news, and also does the right thing in terms of providing details on the original pics.

What about more advanced searches:

If you need to dig deeper then this article from ABC in Australia might help. It suggests looking closely at the image to check if all of the light and shadows look authentic. Are shadows missing, or going in the wrong direction?

Another thing to look out for is lighting on the subject. You’ll often find that when it comes to things being added to a photo you’ll often notice that the edge of the subject doesn’t quite blend into the background too well. For example, maybe there’s extra light around the subject.

In fact, you’ll notice that in this collection of 29 viral photos from 2017 that were totally fake. Have a look at the fake photo of the hot air balloons in the night sky:

Source: Gizmodo

Notice how crisp the edges of the balloons are? There is kind of a black line around the edge, suggesting that they’ve been cut out of another image.

Of course, for the photographers out there you’ll notice another giveaway in that image – on the far right edge of the photo is a streak of light, suggesting that a long exposure was used (a slow shutter speed). Yet the balloons are perfectly still, which would require a fast exposure (a fast shutter speed). That’s an easy giveaway that this is a composite image from two separate photos.

Maybe some of those tricks are only noticed by a photographer like me, but doing a careful check of a photo and if it doesn’t look quite right then it might warrant extra checking before you hit the ‘Share’ button!

Another easy thing to do is to simply check the source of the fake image or video. Is it from a trustworthy source, or do you have some doubts?

Usually the larger news networks will do their homework on a photo to make sure it’s real before sharing, but that’s by no means always the case. There have been plenty of cases of mainstream media either sharing fake photos and trying to pass it as real, or using the wrong photo in the wrong context.

For example, amidst all of the fighting over whether NFL players should kneel for the US national anthem or not, FoxNews shared this photo:

… the only problem was that it was of a team praying, not a team protesting against social injustice:


So that’s about it for our chat about spotting fake photos online. Just be aware that not everything we see is real, and there are a LOT of photos that go viral, but aren’t actually real, or don’t tell the true story of what’s really happening.

And remember, just because you want a photo to be real it doesn’t mean it is real. We need to be aware of the biases that we have, whatever they might be, and take care to make sure we’re not the ones who are sharing fake photos and fake news.

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