Rumor Review

Use digital forensics tools to verify images

viral rumor tank in TorontoA photo of a tank in downtown Toronto is circulating on social media with a caption suggesting was taken during the stay-at-home order. But is it really a demonstration of military enforcement of order?

NO: It was not taken this month — or even this year. YES: Canadian Armed Forces Operations posted it on Twitter on Oct, 1, 2016, when members of the Canadian military arrived at Yonge-Dundas Square for Nuit Blanche, an all-night arts event. YES: On April 5, Toronto-area residents were advised “to expect a larger number of [military] personnel and vehicles” on the roads in the next few days as units relocated to a base about 60 miles from the city to set up a COVID-19 response task force.

Idea: Share an archived version of this post with students and give them a sequence of digital verification challenges, including:

  • Determining whether the claim (that the photo was taken in 2020) is true. (It’s not.)
  • Finding the original tweet from the Canadian military (linked above).
  • Finding the precise location using Google Street View.

If you want to make the challenge even harder, ask students to use different ways to prove that the image is not from 2020. For example, they might use critical observation skills to note that one of the billboards in the background, though partially cut off, announces the opening of a Uniqlo retail store on Sept. 30. A quick lateral search for “Uniqlo store opening Toronto Sept. 30” should produce results confirming that the chain announced Sept. 30 as the opening day for a store in CF Toronto Eaton Centre. Or students might try to use the billboards in another way: If they can find another photo of Yonge-Dundas Square with the same billboards displayed, they can demonstrate that this photo wasn’t taken in 2020.

Comparing a user-contributed photo on Google Maps that is time-stamped October 2016 (top) with the Facebook post falsely claiming that the tank photo was taken in 2020 (bottom) offers further proof that the photo is not a current one. Click the image to view a larger version.

Viral rumor Tank photo comparison