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How to identify fake social media screenshots

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Misinformation and Disinformation have become a social menace in recent years and while the forms and patterns they are shared continue to strengthen, several means have also been initiated to detect and debunk them. Yet with all the efforts,   one fresh area that is posing a significant threat is the circulation of fake social media screenshots (i.e., Facebook posts, Tweets).

This novel reality, made possible by technological evolution, has provided free tools on the internet that have now made it very easy to generate a fake screen capture of a tweet, a Facebook timeline post, or even an Instagram update. 

While the creators of these tools might have intended them for fun, there is a raging problem because they are now used as a  weapon to generate fake news and impersonated content. 

Apparently, multiple fake screenshots were shared by fake news merchants to mislead unsuspecting members of the public amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  A good example was the fact-check carried out by Boom to debunk a fake screenshot that alleged that Marijuana was found to cure the Coronavirus. 

A fact card by Boom showing the fake screenshot

People easily believe these social media screenshots, possibly because they have been used as proof to preserve provocative or erroneous posts that might be later deleted or because they have served as a fact to prove one’s social media activities. Additionally,  if the link to the original post can’t be found, people might merely assume it was deleted and so, believe it. It is this trust that screenshots have earned that is now exploited by misinformants to fuel their unwholesome activities. 

In a scenario that recently unfolded, a screenshot made rounds on social media claiming that evidential photos of items,   alleged to have been collected from Sunday Igboho’s house by DSS, were from 2013. It aroused controversy and many online users believed it.  When DUBAWA carried out a fact check on it, it turned out the screenshot was generated using an online tool. 

Fake screenshots, backdating evidential photos alleged to have collected from Sunday Igboho’s house by the by DSS 

Yet, this was not the first time DUBAWA would have to deal with misleading screenshots, since the Nigerian government banned Twitter operations in Nigeria, the aftermath of which also witnessed a galore of fake social media screenshots. One such screenshot with the inscription of the “Twitter Public Policy” even painted Twitter as being apologetic for the action it took against President Buhari’s tweet. Yet like the other, it was also found to have been forged using an online tool. 

The fake tweet attributed to Twitter, posing it as apologetic to the Nigerian Government

Realising the danger these screenshots pose to information consumption in the society, it is important to keep these points in mind whenever you come across an heralding screenshot. 

  • Consider the context:

Though fake social media screenshots sap on trending issues like a tick on a dog, their claims are most times flamboyant and exaggerated. They mostly tend to heighten the heralding scenario or carve a mouth-watering niche to the situation so it can attract attention. Therefore, it is vital to consider the context of what the screenshot says and ask yourself the possibility of the statement coming from the person, organization etc, the screenshot may be impersonating. 

  • Has it appeared on a credible news site? 

One noticeable thing about fake screenshots is that they tend to appear around a popular issue. This makes it easy to gain traction and lure people’s attention to it. While screenshots are usually topical, it is important to check if they have appeared on any credible news source. One can easily do that by searching online, browsing around the issue or the topic to see what’s really happening around it. In most cases, users may be lucky to stumble upon the truth or even generate a fact check from it. 

  • Take time to carefully observe the screenshot: 

Fake screenshots usually miss out something from the original ones. While you might most often not take notice of the difference, a close observation by comparing an actual screenshot you took yourself with the simulated one will go a long way. So compare the layout structure, date stamps of the post, etc.  You will surely find something strikingly off about it. 

A fake screenshot VS original screenshot. Take time to notice the difference
  • Look for the source: 

Fake social media screenshots are as fluid as water, the more you try to find the  gaps the more they appear to block them. This is because they can be deleted, so that you wouldn’t even want to look for them. Nonetheless, it is very important you still check to track the deleted stamp of the post. Go to the alleged user’s timeline and check if the post is actually there and if it’s not, you will at least find the deleted stamp. While  this is a common feature on Twitter, it’s not prevalent with Facebook. 

 A screenshot of a Twitter handle showing the deleted stamp of a tweet
  •  Do a word search of the content on the screenshot:

An easy way to find out if a screenshot is real or not is to type the words in the screenshot, place them between quotation marks and carry out a web search. If the search did not yield results, the screenshot is definitely not genuine. This is because the internet is archival, and so, even if a post is deleted it will still pop up on your search results (even though you cannot access it). Thus, if it is not on your search results, you may be dealing with a fake screenshot. 

Conclusion 

The resurgence of fake social media screenshots might have just begun. While it continues to spread, mislead and deceive the public, these simple but time-consuming devices might keep you safe from the new menace. Thus, when next you come across a viral screenshot, pause and turn on your fact-checking instincts.  

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