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Spreading Fake Pics for Political Points

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who clearly has no compunction about spreading lies if it serves his political purpose, tweeted out a photo purportedly showing former President Barack Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He did this apparently to capitalize on fears of possible war with Iran, thanks to his hero, President Trump.

Only one problem. The pic was photoshopped and worse, Gosar knew it. Obama never met Rouhani and the real photo was of him greeting then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011.

As The Washington Post pointed out, His latest tweet comes as Iranian-American relations have sunk to their recent nadir in the days since a U.S. airstrike killed one of Iran’s top military commanders, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in an escalation that fueled fears of another regional war in the Middle East.

Challenged by a reporter who called Gosar out for his transgression, the conservative Congressman replied in a a follow-up tweet:

“No one said this wasn’t photoshopped. No one said the president of Iran was dead. No one said Obama met with Rouhani in person.”

The Post also noted, It’s at least the third time in two months that the lawmaker has tweeted conspiratorial messages or misinformation. In November, he posted an acrostic to his account that spelled out the phrase “Epstein didn’t kill himself,” an oft-memed claim referring to the death of jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein. The day after, in a now-deleted tweet, Gosar signal-boosted a conspiracy theory suggesting that George Soros’s son was the whistleblower who triggered the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Obviously, Gosar's tweets that spread lies and misinformation are irresponsible at best, harmful and divisive at worst. He should be sanctioned by Congress for such actions, or otherwise punished by voters at the polls.

Unfortunately, neither of those fates are likely to befall Gosar given today's political climate in which Republican voters seem to gladly believe lies spread by politicians (see Donald Trump) so long as those politicians toe the line on such matters as gun rights and abortion. Note: Gosar's district is heavily Republican and he defeated his Democratic rival, David Brill, in 2016 with 68 percent of the vote.

What You Can Do

However, if you care about truth and avoiding mistakenly distributing fake photos on social media, here are three steps you can take as recommended by California at Berkeley professor Hany Farid, who has written a book about detecting fake images. He shared these tips with The Post, which are relayed here:

Reverse image search. Save the photo to your computer and then drop it into Google Image Search. You’ll quickly see where it might have appeared before, useful if an image purports to be over a breaking news event. Or it might show sites that have debunked it.

Check fact-checking sites. This can be a useful tool by itself. Images of political significance have a habit of floating around for a while, deployed for various purposes. The fake Obama-Rouhani image, for example, has been around since at least 2015 — when it appeared in a video created by a political action committee supporting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Know what’s hard to fake. In an article for Fast Company, Farid noted that some things, like complicated physical interactions, are harder to fake than photos of people standing side by side. Backgrounds are also often tricky; it’s hard to remove something from an image while accurately re-creating what the scene behind them would have looked like. (It’s not a coincidence that both the physical interaction and background of the “Rouhani” photo were clues that it was fake.)

(Editor's note: Our thanks to Not Fake News member Bob Friedman for bringing this story to our attention.)

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