As news breaks, beware faked screenshots of real news sources | Social News

There’s a depressing sameness to the misinfomation that spreads in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings.

One factor, as we’ve been reminded for generations, is that a lie has the time to travel around the world before the truth has a chance to put its boots on. Gathering facts takes time and work, while inventing lies — especially unoriginal lies — takes little of either. Compounding the problem is digital space, in which that old adage proves even more true.


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One highly-predictable meme asserted that the Annapolis newsroom shootings Friday were a “false flag.” Infowars’ Alex Jones has called every violent tragedy of note a “false flag” going back at least to 9/11.

Another, newer form of deception involves doctoring the online presence of an authoritative news source, either to borrow their credibility or, alternatively, to undermine it.

For better or worse, it’s not all that hard to do. (We encourage trying, if only to raise understanding of the problem, but please use your powers for good. In Chrome, highlight at least some of the text and click Inspect.)

The principle is that when you direct your browser to a page — a news article, say — it downloads a local copy of whatever you’re looking at. You can then use your browser to edit the page to say whatever you like — change names, headlines, bylines, anything. If you screenshot the result, it could be passed off as the original, since it has the original’s look and feel.

Obviously the more attention to detail you put into the fake, the more convincing it will seem.

WATCH: As U.S. President Donald Trump exited his press conference Friday, he was repeatedly asked by CNN journalist Jim Acosta, “Mr. President, will you stop calling us the enemy of the people, sir?”






That’s where this example (archived site, but you can follow it back to the original) falls short.

Apart from convicting the shooting suspect, who at that point had not even been charged with anything, it misspells alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos’s name. Yiannopoulos attracted attention earlier this week when he responded to a reporter’s request for comment by texting “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” (Questioned, he said it was his “standard response to a request for comment.”)

The starting point, just based on the photo credit, seems to be this story from May by New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss.

The Times had to point out it wasn’t theirs:

We first saw the phenomenon with screen-shotted fake tweets.

It’s an obvious deception, in some ways: people do tweet indiscreet things and then delete them, and sometimes they’re screenshotted before they get deleted, making the image the only record. The problem is that there isn’t a way of confirming that it’s real, no matter how real it looks.


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The problem gets more serious when the fakes start involving authoritative news sources like the New York Times. If a headline looks authentic, it’s as likely as not to be taken at face value.

Faked newspaper screenshots from the Miami Herald in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, which claimed there were threats to a second school, caused alarm in March.

The lesson? Don’t trust a screenshot, no matter how authentic-seeming, unless you trust the source.

Hat tip to Buzzfeed’s Jane Lytvynenko, who found the fake.


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In brief:

  • This week, Facebook announced an agreement with Agence France-Presse under which the agency would vet Canadian content on the platform for accuracy. Canada’s politics have been relatively free of fake news, compared to the U.S., Mexico and several European countries, but we have an election coming up next year.
  • The Globe and Mail‘s Adrian Morrow spotted a chart circulating on Twitter purporting to show how the U.S. has a dramatic trade disadvantage with Canada. The numbers, he points out, are fabricated.
  • A compelling graphic by researchers at Oxford shows how intensely the Russian Internet Research Agency targeted African-American voters in the leadup to the 2016 election:

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