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Image conspiracy debunking

I received an email yesterday asking for some help debunking claims that a number of Obama family photos are fake. I didn’t have much to offer.

Obama fake photo stories make the rounds periodically, and Birther Report has an article right now. Generally these fake photo claims involve something that looks odd, and then a leap from “odd” to “fake.” In order to be valid, drawing such a conclusion requires an expert opinion, and that is where the birthers fall down in everything they do.

Lack of expertise is enough for me to set aside the claims as unproven, and not requiring an answer. That may not be enough for everybody, and so the topic of debunking arises. The problem with debunking photo claims is that it requires:

  • An exert opinion
  • Discovering an obvious flaw or fakery in the birther analysis
  • A counterexample

I am not an expert on film photography, and I don’t know anyone who is. Counterexamples are hard to come by, as they require recreating of complicated photo shoot details. The result is that, as far as I can tell, there is not much debunking of Obama fake photo claims.

I took a shot at debunking an image conspiracy once back in 2012, in my article, “They all look alike,” but there is very little else here. Fake photo claim debunking is an underserved area.

26 Responses to Image conspiracy debunking

  1. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG May 15, 2015 at 12:24 am #

    Its the warped mind of the nutjob at work. I mean, just look at that BSE crank! He sees “pixels” around the eyes and mouth of every photo of you. In his mind, this means that you’re a made up identity. People like them want so badly for there to be a conspiracy, that they fool themselves into seeing bogeymen where only shadows exist.

  2. avatar
    Notorial Dissent May 15, 2015 at 1:28 am #

    I still have the same problem with this particular bit for the same reasons as I do with the BC claims. They are looking at multi-generation copies of a copy, so who cares what they see in it. If they had the original negative then they would be on the verge of maybe having something, however, considering pictures I have in my own personal family collection that are in fact first generation prints, that would be the same age as the Obama pictures, I can probably match everything they have. The main problem with pictures, particularly color pictures and negatives from that era was the process and dye which would do weird things, and seriously change color over time, if they didn’t come out weird to begin with, and I have examples of both. The pictures they are going on about are old, copies of copies, and each copying affects the quality of the image. Basically, my response to their claims is SO WHAT!

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 15, 2015 at 2:43 am #

    I haven’t bothered to zoom in on the pictures, since I made them and know that they haven’t been altered (except to crop or resize).

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: , just look at that BSE crank! He sees “pixels” around the eyes and mouth of every photo of you.

  4. avatar
    Keith May 15, 2015 at 2:44 am #

    I remember reading that exact same article, with the photos in the exact same order, and the ‘anomalies’ described in the exact same way, last year and probably the year before that.

    Its deja vu all over again just like last time.

  5. avatar
    alg May 15, 2015 at 8:49 am #

    Image “anomalies” have always been the bread and butter of “cornspiracy” nuts. And these days, anybody and everybody is a self-declared imaging expert.

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 15, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    Speaking of BSE, his last post at BR was 5 days ago. It would be unwarranted wishful thinking to believe that I scared him off with that comment I left.

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: Its the warped mind of the nutjob at work. I mean, just look at that BSE crank!

  7. avatar
    Jim May 15, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    alg:
    Image “anomalies” have always been the bread and butter of “cornspiracy” nuts.And these days, anybody and everybody is a self-declared imaging expert.

    Wait, you mean the picture of the face on Mars isn’t? 😀

  8. avatar
    Reality Check May 15, 2015 at 10:45 am #

    It is odd. He is a fairly prolific commenter. He loves to post the same crappy photoshop jobs over and over like a child.

    Dr. Conspiracy: Speaking of BSE, his last post at BR was 5 days ago. It would be unwarranted wishful thinking to believe that I scared him off with that comment I left.

  9. avatar
    Punchmaster via Mobile May 15, 2015 at 11:08 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    Speaking of BSE, his last post at BR was 5 days ago. It would be unwarranted wishful thinking to believe that I scared him off with that comment I left.

    What did you post?

  10. avatar
    ellen May 15, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    There are a number of obviously faked Obama family photos on the Web. But there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they were posted by Obama. The originals were probably from Obama and then birthers downloaded them, fooled around with them and posted the fakes back on the Web. It takes someone particularly gullible to think that birthers who forged three “Kenyan birth certificates” and a “Columbia University Student ID” would not do that.

  11. avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater May 15, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    Andrew Vrba, PmG:
    Its the warped mind of the nutjob at work. I mean, just look at that BSE crank! He sees “pixels” around the eyes and mouth of every photo of you. In his mind, this means that you’re a made up identity. People like them want so badly for there to be a conspiracy, that they fool themselves into seeing bogeymen where only shadows exist.

    Then who the hell did I meet in Philly? Was it a Doc Conspiracy Bot 5000?

  12. avatar
    Punchmaster via Mobile May 15, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater: Then who the hell did I meet in Philly?Was it a Doc Conspiracy Bot 5000?

    The 5000 model is already out?!

  13. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 15, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    You didn’t notice the pixels around my eyes?

    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater: Then who the hell did I meet in Philly?

  14. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 15, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    The bot is version 3 [firmware release 6.8.6 20-Mar-2015].

    Punchmaster via Mobile: The 5000 model is already out?!

  15. avatar
    OllieOxenFree May 15, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    I have a friend who is not a birther, but is a firm believer that Obama’s past is an artificial and manufactured one. As a rule, we avoid political discussions, but with just the right amount of beer and barbeque sauce boundaries are often crossed.

    During one particular cookout, he talked about faked photographs and dragged me to his office to show me photos that he had personally analyzed of the President. It was all pixels and awkward proportions or placements of body parts. I asked him to allow me to load a photo and have him tell me if it was faked or not. He turned and I loaded a photo into his photoshop. I zoomed in and asked him to take a look.

    Immediately he noticed pixels that told him the photo was fake. I zoomed out a bit more and he could make out fingers. According to him, they were too straight and the shadings of them were all wrong. Two fingers looked so similar that he was convinced they were just the same finger copied over. Zoomed out a little further and he said the hand was actually in an unnatural position. He also said that the photo was starting to look familiar and that he was certain that he had akready determined that it was a fake.

    I asked him if he was sure, and he said that he couldn’t say what photo of the President it was, but he was absolutely certain that it was fake.

    I then zoomed out all the way to show him that it was in fact a photo of he and his daughter that I had gotten from his own Facebook page. He admitted that “I got him, but that it did not prove that the photos he had analyzed of the President were’nt faked.

    Obviously he had missed the point entirely.

  16. avatar
    Punchmaster via Mobile May 15, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    http://www.birtherreport.com/2015/05/here-you-go-veteran-broadcaster-seeks.html#IDComment970901933

    It won’t link to the comment in question. Is it the Theo remark?

  17. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG May 15, 2015 at 3:21 pm #

    OllieOxenFree: Obviously he had missed the point entirely.

    I think when someone who is obsessed with a conspiracy is in that deep, Its like an incurable illness. There is no regaining of common sense. You proved to him that he was wrong, and instantly he snapped back to his fantasy.

  18. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 15, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    BSE has been solidly linked to a Facebook profile; however, I do not know whether the Facebook profile is a real person.

    Sluffy1: … another nut cracked?

  19. avatar
    justlw May 15, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

    Speaking of such nonsense, a stomach churner from an awful human being. ODS + bogus photo analysis + massacre trutherism.

    http://pando.com/2015/05/15/james-tracy-and-the-boston-marathon-bombing-deniers/

  20. avatar
    Rickey May 18, 2015 at 12:28 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    BSE has been solidly linked to a Facebook profile; however, I do not know whether the Facebook profile is a real person.

    If you would like to e-mail me a link to the Facebook page, I’ll check it out and see if it is a real person.

    I will of course keep the information between you and me. I will not out him, here or elsewhere, unless you choose to do it.

  21. avatar
    ZixiOfIx May 18, 2015 at 1:29 am #

    I won’t address everything, because some of the accusations are just plain dumb (fake prom pictures? really?), but I’d like to address the shadows and discoloration because there is a straightforward explanation.

    People think photography is perfect, but it is ultimately only as good as the film, equipment, and photographer.

    Photographic film and equipment has historically been bad at capturing people of color.

    Briefly, film, especially color film, was formulated, developed, and calibrated to photograph white people. When film was developed, labs had images called Shirley Cards – pictures of a pretty white woman with blue eyes, wearing a white dress, with primary-colored pillows behind her. During development at labs, film and equipment was calibrated to the Shirley Cards.

    Only in the last few decades has film been formulated and calibrated to take other skin tones into account.

    Below is an article about the topic. The first set of images shows the same issue as the photo of President Obama’s mother’s hand: a white person next to a black person, their skin looks discolored and dark.

    The history of color photography and Shirley Cards is interesting, and there are several articles out there that discuss them in more depth.

    http://jezebel.com/the-truth-about-photography-and-brown-skin-1557656792

  22. avatar
    Keith May 18, 2015 at 3:34 am #

    ZixiOfIx: The history of color photography and Shirley Cards is interesting, and there are several articles out there that discuss them in more depth.

    http://jezebel.com/the-truth-about-photography-and-brown-skin-1557656792

    Thanks Zixi.

    A day without learning something new is a wasted day. You helped me learn something new and I am very grateful for the favor.

  23. avatar
    RanTalbott May 18, 2015 at 8:21 am #

    Generally these fake photo claims involve something that looks odd, and then a leap from “odd” to “fake.”

    Isn’t that the case with just about every birfer theory?

    In fact, that could almost be dubbed something like “Conspiracy Theorists’ Syndrome”: in most cases that come to mind, the loon sees something he/she thinks isn’t The Way It’s S’posed to Be™, and immediately goes looking for an explanation that fits his/her worldview, instead of trying to find the actual facts behind the event (which might challenge that view).

  24. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 18, 2015 at 8:37 am #

    Email sent.

    Rickey: If you would like to e-mail me a link to the Facebook page, I’ll check it out and see if it is a real person.