The images are not real, but the scenes that Photoshop allows us to create may become our reality after the election.
The essence of any news organization is its credibility when it comes to delivering news to its audience. That means being able to properly determine whether or not available material relates to something that actually took place. This has to be at the forefront of any decision prior to its presentation, since the alternative means a much longer timespan trying to restore that credibility.
The method of delivery in such attempts to deceive can vary, with video, photographs and audio all capable of being manipulated by someone. The intent may be connected to putting forth a particular political agenda or it might be related to discrediting an opposing viewpoint. In the latter case, this can take the form of doctored photographs or audio that’s deliberately taken out of context. In some cases, the goal may simply be to play a prank on an organization.
An Evolution in Standards
The changing media landscape in the past few decades has heightened the competitive nature of being the first to break a news story. That’s resulted in news outlets becoming more vulnerable to manipulation in some form. It’s also meant that the traditional concept of having multiple sources for an official confirmation is now seemingly a relic of the past.
Inattention to Detail
In the quest for more online recognition, news organizations now assess what’s trending on social media as a gauge of what they should provide on their website. The problem is that in numerous instances, news outlets looking for a photo to accompany their subsequent story fail to take into account that it’s been altered from its original form by an individual that likely used Photoshop software.
Newer organizations with a much looser interpretation of what constitutes a legitimate photo tend to be the most vulnerable to this sort of mistake. However, even longstanding media can fall victim to such hoaxes.
In 2010, Time Magazine published a photo of a tornado near the Statue of Liberty. While the photo itself was legitimate, the publisher didn’t realize that the photo had been taken in 1976. A more controversial decision from the magazine had been made in 1994, when the decision to darken the features of accused murderer O.J. Simpson quickly brought charges of racism.
The Agenda Issue
In other cases, the political angle espoused by a news outlet can lead them to make a rash decision to use a photograph. Conservative outlets during the U.S. presidential campaign have used faked photos that purport to show a female supporter of Donald Trump that was severely beaten and a car with Trump stickers on it being vandalized.
Besides Photoshop, audio software like Audacity affords someone the opportunity to mislead a media outlet by being able to change the gender of his or her voice. In some cases, the ability of someone to imitate a celebrity’s voice ends up resulting in embarrassment.
A Willingness to Be Taken
The person doesn’t even need to be a celebrity, which followers of radio shock jock Howard Stern have done for years to on-air broadcasters. One of the more notorious instances of this was again connected to the O.J. Simpson case, with the events prior to his arrest allegedly being described to Peter Jennings on ABC television. In truth, the depiction was false and only debunked after a subsequent call from sports caster Al Michaels.
Video manipulation has left television stations and websites to report on dubious incidents, with embarrassing results. In April 2014, the ABC affiliate in Phoenix reported on the alleged claim that teenagers were smoking crushed bedbugs in an effort to reach intoxication. The video shown had been made by an individual who was upset over a previous news story on marijuana that had featured the man.
Fox News offers a mix of straight news and opinion-based programs, with many news stories finding their way into the mix of segments in the latter category. That’s led to a number of misleading stories, including a story about large crowds at a Sarah Palin book signing that turned out to be from one of her 2008 speeches while running for Vice President.
Another falsity presented as fact was a purported large crowd at a rally against a health care reform bill in Washington. The crowd, in fact, had been from a Glenn Beck rally two months earlier.
While networks and online outlets can be the source of such manipulation, the fact that they allow themselves to be victims of a hoax shows a laxity in previously established standards.
The Growing Tide of Problems
Considering the tools that pranksters or politically charged individuals continue to have at their disposal, the ease at achieving such goals suggests that such media outlets should get a better gatekeeper.