Campaign of the Week

Contagious I/O

18 August 2020

Canon tackles fake news with photojournalism verification site 

Leading camera brand fights misuse of photographs with global database and digital fingerprint technology

This article was first published on Contagious I/O, our online intelligence tool. To find out more click here.

It’s common for photographs to be misused to spread fake news, as they elicit emotional responses and can be easily manipulated to mislead a viewer. Camera manufacturer Canon Nordic is addressing the issue with Truthmark

Created with Uncle Grey, Copenhagen, Truthmark is a global database where photographers can state the truth behind their photographs. After verifying their (free) account on the Truthmark website, photographers can upload their photos along with the facts behind the image. Each photo can be marked with a tool that gives it a unique digital fingerprint, and once uploaded to the database images are encrypted. 

This digital fingerprint means that the original photo and its story can be found on the database, even if it has been tampered with elsewhere and another version of it exists online. Visitors to the site – journalists and members of the public – can check the authenticity of images by performing a free image search.  

As Canon explains on the Truthmark website, ‘With the Truthmark initiative we hope to reduce misuse of photos worldwide and lead to a fair usage of photos going forward, always ensuring the truth behind the image. Because we believe in the truthtellers. And when their images travel the world, we want to make sure their story will follow.’

The campaign is being promoted with a short documentary created with three award winning photographers, shot during Covid-19, alongside Canon’s channels and some paid media. ‘This campaign is part of a wider campaign to get people to trust their eyes,’ the agency told Contagious. ‘We’ve seen so many photoshopped pictures or videos and the rise of deep fakes. It makes people question the product that Canon delivers. Throughout the year this will be the project that Canon builds on.’

Results / In one week following the activation, the initiative has generated 6,883,427 impressions and reached 4,009,987 people, and the video has been viewed 774,443 times.

Contagious Insight 

Truth crisis / In the face of fake news, deep fakes and the use of social media as a news source (half of UK adults use social media to keep up with the latest news, reported Ofcom last year) there is an obvious and urgent need for tools that verify and corroborate news stories and sources. While we have yet to see whether Canon’s Truthmark becomes a viable and long-term solution to the misuse of photos, it certainly taps into important issues for both photographers and members of the public.

While putting the onus on photographers to upload their own images and stories might seem like a drawback, in fact it empowers photographers who often find themselves powerless to stop people using their imagery to propagate false narratives. Truthmark shifts the agency back to the originator of the photo, and provides a direct channel for members of the public to hear directly from photographers about the image in question. The unique digital fingerprint tackles the issue of photo doctoring, and in the era of extremely convincing deep fake technology, it gives journalists a way to verify and analyse images before using them to support or illustrate a narrative.

Of course, Truthmark can’t stop people using images for misleading purposes; those who use this tool are likely to already be invested in establishing the true story behind a photograph, while those intent on spreading false information can continue to do so. 

Trust crisis / Part of Canon’s strategy here, as the agency explained, is to rebuild trust among the general public, whose faith in photography may have been rocked by the frequent misuse and altering of imagery. As a leader in optical and imaging products, it’s important for Canon to position itself as a supporter of photographers and ‘truthtellers’; the brand seems to connect a loss of trust in photography/photographers with a lack of trust in its products. Protecting the integrity of those two things therefore protects the Canon brand.

Meanwhile, the issue of transparency and truth has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. As the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism Digital News Report 2020 outlines, Covid-19 has further ‘reinforced the need for reliable, accurate journalism that can inform and educate populations’, reminding us ‘how open we have become to conspiracies and misinformation’. In January, in a poll of 40 markets across six continents, the report found that only 38% of people ‘trust most news most of the time’ (down four percentage points from 2019) while more than half said they were concerned about ‘what is true or false on the internet when it comes to news’.

This article was first published on Contagious I/O, our online intelligence tool. To find out more click here.