Did you see the email circulating about amazing icebergs on Lake Michigan this winter?
The subject line is "This is Lake Michigan this winter." The images are pretty impressive. And, if you're anywhere near Chicago, you know it's been a brutal winter with some amazing ice formations on the lake.
Here's the email my father sent me ....
ICEBERG PICTURES FROM LAKE MICHIGAN Amazing striped icebergsIcebergs in Lake Michigan sometimes have stripes, formed by layers of snow that react to different conditions.Blue stripes are often created when a crevice in the ice sheet fills up with melt water and freezes so quickly that no bubbles form.When an iceberg falls into the lake, a layer of water can freeze to the underside. If this is rich in algae, it can form a green stripe. Brown, black and yellow lines are caused by sediment, picked up when the ice sheet grinds downhill towards the lake.
Craig Silverman recent speech on digital verification at the ACES conference in Vegas inspired me to dig deeper.
It's not that I don't trust my dad, but this just wasn't passing my sniff test. The images seemed too perfect. And people just don't go exploring Lake Michigan in rubber rafts as depicted in image No. 3. And frozen waves ... really? That's got to be some freaky cold weather for water to freeze that fast.
I looked at Craig's (free) Digital Verification Handbook for some places to start. I also referred to my notes from a Poynter NewsU webinar he did last year and slides from a presentation he did. Turns out, it took me longer to figure out how to find the answer than it did to get the answer ....
I uploaded one of the images into Google's image lookup. A millisecond later, I had my proof.
The images are not fake, but they are not from Lake Michigan. According to Snopes.com, they were shot in the Antarctic.
"These striking pictures of icebergs with multi-colored stripes or banding were taken by a Norwegian sailor named Oyvind Tangen while he was aboard a research ship about 1,700 miles south of Cape Town, South Africa. "
Is my job done? Nope.
Just because you find info on a website, doesn't mean it's true. There were several websites the popped up in my search that said the icebergs were on Lake Michigan. For example, thissideoftheroad.blogspot.com, says they're real.
This is where you deploy your skeptical editing skills. What is the source of information for both websites? Is it clear? Are there links? Are those sources credible?
Thissideoftheroad cites an email from a friend. Snopes cites the The London Times and The Daily Mail, providing citation information at the end of the post:
Derbyshire, David. "Revealed: The Antarctic Iceberg That Looks Like a Giant Humbug." The Daily Mail. 18 March 2008.
Smith, Lewis. "Pattern of Decay in Southern Ocean Gives Icebergs More Natural Beauty." The [London] Times. 18 March 2008.
Snopes is a better-known source; I don't know the author of thissideoftheroad. Snopes cites credible sources.
It's pretty obvious who to believe here, but other cases may be more gray and you might want to dig deeper.
I did a quick check on another reverse image search website that Silverman recommends, tineye.com It shows me 153 results -- the majority of which say the images are from Lake Michigan.
What's interesting here is what I'm not seeing. Almost all the links are to personal social media accounts or small blogs. Not much for major news outlets or professional photography sites. When I change the sort to "oldest" first, I see the first posts go back to 2008.
So clearly, these images didn't come from Lake Michigan this winter.
The other fact that's clear is that a lot of people, in their eagerness to share cool pictures, are republishing inaccurate information without a second thought.
That's why professional editors are needed to be the gatekeepers of credibility for our organizations. And we need to apply the skeptical editing skills we practice with words into the digital era and apply it to all types of information.
Audio can be spliced. Emails can be faked. Photos can be altered. It's our job to put on our B.S. detectors and find the truth.
There's an old journalism saying: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Maybe we should add to it: "If your father sends you an email, check it out." (Love ya, Dad!!!)
I took both of these pictures. Can you tell me which is fake and which is real?