Conducting a reverse image search can help you find out more about an image's provenance. (AFP / Frederic J. Brown)

How to do a reverse image search

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

Before you share an image you’ve found on social media, it’s a good idea to first learn more about it in case it’s not what it seems. Luckily, there’s a quick and simple way to do that. 

Running it through a reverse image search can help you see where else it’s been published online -- and find out whether it might be an old image or shared out of context. 

There are several search engines that you can use to do reverse image searches, including Google, TinEye, Yandex, and Bing. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Run the image through the search engine

You can upload the image directly into the search engine, for example in Google:

Or, if you’re using the Google Chrome browser, you can just right-click on the image and select “Search Google for image”:

A social media post claimed that this photo showed two Italian nurses who lost their lives fighting COVID-19. But running the photo through a reverse image search tells a different story… 

Step 2: Investigate the results

The search engine will pull up a list of links where the image has been published online. Note that this is not necessarily an exhaustive list -- it will only find pages that are in the search engine’s index -- but it will often turn up valuable results. 

Scroll through the results and look for clues. For example, ask yourself:

Have others raised doubts about the image? 

If media outlets have already debunked claims related to the image, their articles usually appear in the results. 

Screenshot of reverse image search results in Google

Was the image taken out of context? 

In some cases, you’ll find that the image was taken out of its original context. 

For example, it might be a photo from a news agency, but the person who posted it on social media changed the description to make it seem like it shows a different event or like it was taken in a different place. 

This photo used in a misleading social media post was actually taken by an AP photographer, and shows a couple at the Barcelona airport in Spain -- not nurses in Italy

Is it an old image? 

In other cases, a person posting an image on social media might claim that an image shows a recent event, but when you run it through a reverse image search, you notice that this image was published on other websites months or years ago. Therefore, it is impossible that the image shows a recent event. (Read an example here.)

 
Gaelle Faure