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Don't believe everything you see: ASU Initiative encourages photo verification

The Weaponized Narrative Initiative aims to verify photo and video authenticity to fight disinformation and fake news

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"Photo manipulation is effective in spreading false narratives." Illustration published on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

In October 2018, ASU's Weaponized Narrative Initiative began a partnership with the tech company Truepic to help students understand the importance of verifying the authenticity of videos and still pictures.

Related Link: An ASU group is on the hunt for weapons of mass disinformation 

The Initiative, which began in January 2017, is an effort to educate the public about the strategic spread of manipulated information, such as that used in Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

The ASU Initiative is mainly focused on research, according to Cyndi Coon, producing director of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative, who met with members of Truepic in Washington DC earlier this year. 

"What we're really focused on is how information is weaponized," she said. "It's the truth and it's the fake that is weaponized, and how are human beings being injured psychologically and emotionally now and in the future?"

The partnership between ASU and Truepic came to fruition because both groups are a part of the State Departments Global Engagement Centers roster.

"I’m really hoping to see that we can use this as a campaign, starting with students at ASU, to help recognize that going forward, video and still pictures on the global landscape should be verified," Coon said.

Mounir Ibrahim, vice president of strategic initiatives for Truepic, said the company works in both the business and social worlds to verify the authenticity of digital images and videos. 

"We take our technology and we customize and build solutions for companies." he said. "Our main area is in insurance. Another area that we work in, and is less about making money, is the social impact. We see that out technology can be deployed to literally make the world better."

According to Ibrahim, Truepic's app has been used in over 100 countries, with users ranging from private businesses to citizen journalists in Syria

"We give people the ability to take a picture anywhere and prove that it's real," he said. "Our app helps particularly vulnerable people and communities — students are sometimes subject to really difficult situations like online dating and living in apartment buildings."

Ibrahim said young people can use the Truepic app in their everyday lives to verify photos of something they're buying or selling online, reporting damages or problems in dorms or apartments or making sure that online dating profiles are legitimate.

"There is very real life utility attached to this," he said. "This is a tool that helps everyday students, and they should start using it now, in addition to fighting fake news."

Maureen Daly Goggin, professor of rhetoric at ASU, said that fake news has always been around but has become more of a problem recently because there are more platforms for falsehoods to circulate. 

"Be skeptical about everything that you read until you can verify it with trustworthy sources, and just always have a questioning mind," she said. "Look across the whole spectrum because it's open on the right and it's open on the left."

Goggin said she supports the partnership between ASU and Truepic and that it is crucial for people to be aware of the importance of image and video verification

"I think it's critical for everybody to pay attention to it and to talk to their family and friends about it," she said. "I think more and more we need to be more and more skeptical."

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