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Piecing together visual clues for verification

Every eyewitness photo and video will contain visual clues that can help with verification. Learn more about what they are and how to find them

Video produced by First Draft

When you start working to verify a photo or video, it helps to make a note of every clue you can find. What can you infer about the location from the architecture, for example? What information can you gather from signs and billboards? Are there any distinguishing landmarks or geographical features?

Piecing together and cross referencing these clues with existing data, maps and information can often give you the evidence that you need to establish where a photo or video was captured.

Signage

Text on billboards, shop fronts, sign posts and banners should all be searched to work out the location. Start with shops that appear to be independent as these often bring up only one business address.

Clothing

Cultural identifiers, such as regional dress, can provide a broad starting point when you are attempting to verify an image or video from scratch. You should also note style of clothing to see if it matches up with the weather conditions of the assumed or alleged location.

If you are working to verify images depicting conflict, then a web search to find military and police uniforms from around the world is always useful (Wikipedia has a page dedicated to different camouflage patterns, for example).

Landscape

Noting any identifiable features such as mountain ranges, rivers, bridges, trees or sandy terrain will provide you with points of reference to check against satellite imagery or compare with any geolocated images that can be found on sites like Panoramio.

Structures

As with landscape, make sure you note down any obvious landmarks, such as statues, fountains, water towers and very tall buildings to help you match the exact location with satellite and geolocated imagery. Also, look to the architecture to help you narrow down your location search to specific regions.

Weather

weather cropped

Infrogmation/Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved

Make a note of the weather conditions, particularly if there is a bright blue sky or heavy rain or snow. Although weather is not a particularly useful clue out of context, checking that conditions match up with the weather reports from the assumed or alleged location can often provide an essential part of the puzzle.

Insignia

Can you spot any logos, emblems, or flags that might help you to identify a region or group? Look for badges on uniforms, police crests or tourism logos on the side of public transport.

Vehicles

A quick search of number plates can help you to quickly verify the location that a photo or video was captured (although we obviously urge caution if only one vehicle is featured).

Although the make and models of vehicles may not provide clues to the exact location, they can certainly help you to rule out locations where such vehicles do not seem to fit.

Test Your Observation Skills!

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A project of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, First Draft News is an open-access site that provides practical and ethical guidance in how to find, verify and publish content sourced from the social web.