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Find fake news and scams with a simple Google trick



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Use a Google Image reverse search to check if the image in a meme actually came from another event.

Brett Pearce / CNET

A meme that spread online this week claims that a salesman sold Nazi and Confederate flags during the Million MAGA March, where Trump supporters gathered in Washington, DC on Saturday. But it is not true. The seller was actually spotted at a Pennsylvania flea market in September, and the market organizers reportedly told him to put the flags away.

Memes like these – usually with a political message that frames a compelling image – often turn out to be misleading or downright untrue. Usually a picture of another event is combined with a description of something that didn’t happen or has no context.

Fortunately, there is a trick that can help you find out if this is happening, and find the original source of the image. It’s called a reverse image search. It’s easy to do and you just might feel like a brilliant detective.

It is not only useful for fake news. Finding a reverse image can also help you spot scams on dating or real estate websites. That will help you one catfisher who uses someone else’s photos to lure you into a relationship under false pretenses (they will probably end up asking you for money or gifts, but sometimes they just play weird jokes). It also prevents you from disclosing personal information to scammers pretending to rent out a property they don’t own.

How to do a reverse image search

The Million MAGA March meme was debunked by Snopes. But the website, which monitors news stories, rumors, and memes flying across the Internet, cannot achieve everything. If you look up your story on Snopes and can’t find it, it’s time to open up Google.

There are a few options for searching for images in reverse. First, open Google Images in your Safari, Firefox or Chrome web browser.

Option 1: Click and hold the image. Then drag it to the Google Images search field in another window.

Option 2: Take a screenshot of the image and drag that file into the search field. (You can also upload the file from the Google Images search bar, if you prefer.)

Option 3: Right click on the image and select “open image in another window”. Copy the URL and paste it into the Google Images search field.

Option 4: If you are using Chrome, right click on the image and select “search Google for image”.

The results will tell you in what other contexts the photo appeared. That will help you spot multiple posts trying to sell the same item (like this pig chair, which isn’t for sale but has appeared repeatedly on Craigslist). It also helps you spot duplicate real estate listings, which may not be posted by the same people.

How to do a reverse image search on mobile devices

For the fastest and most readable results, you’ll want to use a desktop web browser to do a reverse image search. The same search just isn’t that easy to do on mobile. These are the simplest approaches you can try:

Option 1: In the Chrome mobile browser, you can press and hold an image, then select ‘search Google for this image’.

Option 2: Tap and hold the photo in your mobile browser and select the option to copy the photo (for example, “copy” or “copy URL”). That puts the URL of the photo on your clipboard. Then paste the URL into the Google Images search bar.

You can also use the Google app, which allows you to upload images or take photos. However, CNET found the results very spotty when looking for the origin of a photo.

What to do about fake or misleading messages

You can report a misleading or false meme on the social media platform on which you found it. You can also report scam dating profiles, fake ads, and fake rental listings on the websites where they are hosted. The steps for reporting the messages will be different for each website.

You can also let people know that they posted a deceptive meme. The outcome will of course vary. Nevertheless, you now know how to expose fake news right at the Thanksgiving dinner table. How you choose to handle your powers is up to you.


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