See how to debunk viral photos in seconds using image search

“And remember, the time you need to do this most is when the content in front of you feeds into your own confirmation bias about your personal passions, whatever those are.”

Skeptical Software Tools

Google Image Search Back in August I wrote about how Google Image Search and other reverse image search engines are a valuable tool to debunk viral hoaxes. Last week yet another example popped up that shows just how easy these types of debunks can be.

The new example involves social media posts about animal rights and animal testing. Photos of suffering animals are always compelling, and often go viral. While most people sympathize with the animals pictured, there is a secondary lesson here – don’t forget to apply skepticism to viral content even when the message confirms your own beliefs and pet causes.

I’m an animal fan myself – we have both a dog and a cat in our household. The purpose of this post is not to criticize animal rights activists, but show how to verify photos. So lets see how it’s done.

Warning: If you are particularly sensitive to pictures of…

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12 responses to “See how to debunk viral photos in seconds using image search”

  1. Black Ops Mikey says :

    And speaking of Google(+) here’s a link to give pause for skepticism:

    The issue is whether some of the United States troops have had their breakfasts cancelled because of budget cuts. The mess hall was locked at breakfast.

    This is a mixed bag if you follow it at Snopes. It’s not because of budget cuts and the soldiers can get MREs… if they happen to be able to get to the mess hall for the other two meals and plan ahead.

    Sometimes skepticism can get complicated.

  2. eSell says :

    That issue doesn’t seem THAT complicated. Yes, hot breakfasts have been cancelled, but NOT due to budget cuts, or b/c congress got a pay raise; instead, it is part of a gradual withdrawal of troops. These kinds of stories are EXACTLY where skepticism comes in. I’m just about to start thinking there isn’t anything true anymore–all news items (on FB, esp) are a Misunderstanding at best, and deliberate Misinformation at worst (like in this article I’ve reblogged). I don’t know which is more common, though I have my suspicions…

  3. Black Ops Mikey says :

    Yes, the actual issue isn’t that complicated once you ascertain the additional facts which have been left out, but it does demonstrate why we can’t just trust even sincere people, but to be fair, the poster did pose the question, “Is this really true?”.

    That is what skepticism is all about: Is this really true?

    It never ceases to amaze me, like the poor cats pictured, that more often than not, it is not misunderstanding, but an outright con to promote misinformation.

    My observation: Those who promote deliberate misinformation are brazen and will react only to superior force (often with the force of the Justice Department, such as the incident with Ronald Weinland). They lie, deceive for fun and mostly profit with ego thrown in. The most disturbing feature is that the general populace seem to have been so conditioned to accept deliberate misinformation and give it a free pass, even if they know it’s totally wrong (and even remain in organizations after their beliefs have been proven to be lies).

    It’s aggravating and I suppose the only rational response to this irrationality is to keep plugging along to spread the news of skepticism.

    • eSell says :

      This bit with the cats ties in with the Armstrongist cult thing. The people spreading the cat pic and implying that it is a horrible scene of medical experimentation on animals did it, probably, b/c they can’t find any good pictures of animal medical experimentation b/c that kind of stuff probably isn’t photographed that much. But the pic looks good, and they say “well, the end justifies the means!”

      That ties in to the Cultish stuff you focus on more in that I can’t remember how many times I’ve mentioned to someone who believes in the stuff “did you know that HWA was saying back in 1934 that the Kingdom of God would be around 6yrs away? Did you know he said ‘Mousollini IS the BEAST of Revelation’?” Oh, but none of that matters b/c how many people would have helped further “The Work of God” if Armstrong would have said “the end won’t come until 2025”! Thus, the end justifies the means.

      There might be legitimate cases where the End really does justify awful Means (like when Winston Smith thought that he was helping the resistance against The Party and said he would even be willing to throw acid in the face of a child if that helped overthrow Big Brother), but when you start thinking like that…that is dangerous territory.

      • Black Ops Mikey says :

        The real threat here is that the people are conned into believing lies, promulgated by selfish interests who look to boost their egos and pocketbooks and the people simply want to believe — they are not skeptical enough to pursue rationality and instead rely on their feelings.

        Once invested in a con, people completely compromise themselves because they don’t have the integrity to set aside their emotions and pursue the logical and scientific choices because to do so would make them feel bad — the background basis for a low level addiction (like cigarette smoking). It turns out to be bad for them on every level, but to stop would mean both losing their investment (which was worthless to begin with) and cause severe withdrawal symptoms.

        Believe me about the withdrawal symptoms: It was about 5 years that even after I absolutely proved that British Israelism was rubbish, I still had a twinge watching news programs with the though in the back of my mind, “what if it might be true?”. Armstrongism perverts the cortex by rearranging neurons to produce distorted perceptions. Do you have any idea how hard it is to rearrange neural networking when it is disrupted into a dysfunctional array? It’s pretty hard. It’s very difficult to supplant the feelings with logic and once messed up, the brain isn’t as much assistance as you might think it would be even with neuroplasticity.

        Fortunately, we have many external events, such as nutjobs claiming demons are coming through the Stargate under the ocean, the conviction of Ronald Weinland for felony tax evasion, claims that demons are visiting earth in UFOs to abscond with fauna and flora to other planets, Ysrael Hawkins setting up youth programs after having been found a pedophile and, of course, all the rubbish prophecies which have fallen flat proving the false prophets for what they are. This is all validating and emotionally cloying. It becomes an enormously effective tool in weaning off (going cold turkey) from kook based crackpotology.

        Which reminds me: Over at http://britishisraelism.com/ under “kooks” there is proof that Herbert Armstrong was a kook. I mean, Armstrongists should be able to take one look at that and decide that they want to stop being crazy. But no, they don’t seem to have even noticed that a valid outside objective source has identified British Israelism as a kook religion, so here in the next few days, I need to post the info on the blog and maybe there will be a greater exposure.

        But then, trying to persuade addicts has always been a frustrating effort.

  4. Black Ops Mikey says :

    And here’s a good use of Google: Finding out about GMO.

    Over at Otagosh there’s a blog entry showing an article that says it’s all OK:

    By using a simple tool, I found this utterly annoying ad without video controls which effectively debunks the idea:

    GMO Frankenfoods

    All things being equal, and having scientific research to back it up with the cloying presence of satisfying hyperbole, I am tending to the GMO Frankenfood idea to ban it (of course, reducing world population might be a worthy cause, but I am against the Corporations making billions of dollars off of it).

    Yet another example which bears quite a lot of skepticism.

    • eSell says :

      I don’t know…that’s probably a really good topic for me to look in to. There is a fellow who I think fairly highly of, D.J. Grothe, who is, I think, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation and does other Skeptical stuff, and he frequently says that GMO is fine. But I haven’t read into it all myself.

      I can see definite benefits to at least some GMO food, but I don’t know how far might be too far. However, I tend to doubt the whole “reducing world population” thing. More people = more market. I can’t imagine corporations actually wanting to make their potential market smaller. Sure, smoking kills people, but that is a side effect–tobacco companies don’t exist for the purpose of selling death.

      • Black Ops Mikey says :

        As for GMO, if we are to believe the video ad, there have been years of study (nearly a decade) using laboratory animals and other research and if the studies are valid, GMO, particularly for corn and soy is causing cancer and internal organ failure in humans. If this is true, then the Corporations are very carefully covering it up and spending millions to prevent GMO labelling on foods.

        As with the satire, Farmed and Dangerous, corporations will put a good spin on anything bad if it makes a profit. Now here’s the thing to realize: Big Corporations will absolutely do damaging things to themselves and others for very short term profits without considering the long term. Corporate managers look only to the quarterly and annual profits. This is clarified in the book, “Moral Mazes” by Robert Jackall. One of the examples is that a company refused to spend $12 million on replacing a battery and ended up spending a hundred million in replacement costs plus fines because they made money (gobs of it) in the short term. The worst of it is that the directors said that if they knew what would happen in advance they would have made exactly the same decision.

        So yes, Corporations are not above killing off customers for two reasons: Short term profit and that there will be some questions for a long time about why the people died, so they can get away with it, those in the Corporate Hierarchy can take their golden parachutes and bail without nary any repercussions.

        And then they head off to government to insure that their bad boy practices are protected by law.

        The worst example of this is Aspertame.

        The real problem, I think (here comes an opinion based on years of being a Corporate Manager and working in government), is that there is not a separation of corporations and state: Just like the division between religion and state, the companies standing to make outrageous profits if only they can get laws passed should have a solid wall between the corporations and the government. The government has adopted the worst of the corporate model and implemented it badly.

        In practice, they are in bed with one another, making it very bad for the citizens caught in their vice of greed, covering up the truth and killing them off. I think it has been this way from the beginning, where business interests control the people through rulership so the 1% can stay on top.

        To paraphrase the callous Marie Antoinette: Let them eat cake (GMO with lots of gluten).

      • Casey Wollberg says :

        There is no scientifically valid reason to be opposed to genetically modified organisms, and arguments from corporate corruption (of the variety Douglas is absolutely obsessed with) are hardly relevant to the discussion.

  5. eSell says :

    Also, yesterday was my 1yr anniversary with WordPress! Happy Birthday to me!

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