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Photoshop and Politics

ONE of my favourite indigenous jokes from back when the internet was a bit new to Kampalans came from a friend who is now in charge of a big government parastatal.

“Man,” somebody had said to him, “these days we no longer go to Mbarara to visit the cows. We just go to the website and check from there.”

“Heh!”, responded my pal, “You be there – kumbe someone might go to my website then copy and paste to yours and you think you are doing well!”

That cracked me up for many reasons, but came back to me this week after I had gotten fed up of the WhatsApp circulation of so-called crowds at our Presidential Campaign Rallies in Uganda.

The fascination with the size of the crowds is highly irritating to me because whereas I understand the politics behind the need for crowds, I cannot forgive certain otherwise intellectual people for focussing on this more than all other elements of the campaigns – which is a story for another day.

Right from the start, there was so much focus placed on photography of crowd size that ‘photoshop’ came into play.

‘Photoshop’ no longer refers to the Adobe photo editing software; instead, it covers all apps and programmes used to manipulate photographs, of which there are so many available these days that it is important to be able to cut through the deceit machines feeding our social media ecosystem.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of free photo edit apps out there that will enable a fellow to alter a photograph within seconds of receiving it and turning it into a falsehood of alarming clarity.[related-posts]

This week, someone sent to a Namilyango Old Boys WhatsApp Group a photograph of a massive crowd wearing blue t-shirts and said Rukungiri was “on FIRE!”.

A designer friend of mine gave the photograph a critical look, took it through a three minute alteration process, then sent the very same photograph back to the group but this time hued all yellow in a way that left no doubt in one’s mind that it was of an NRM rally.

He did it so simply that he had moved on to other things minutes later and didn’t notice until about a day later that the photograph juxtaposition he had created had gone viral.

The accusations fell on both sides, and to this day people who aren’t privy to this story are pointing fingers at each other.

Today, though, he took an interest in more of these photographs of massive crowds and discovered one in which certain tell-tale signs appeared twice, side-by-side – and he marked up that photograph as well, this time with many orange and white features.

Every time you get a photograph that raises any suspicion in your mind, look at the elements that stand out and study them as you would a ‘Spot The Difference’ photograph.

Another amusing entry showed a Facebook query that suggested that the photograph in question was fake because the ground in it was as yellow as the t-shirts people were wearing.

After that, if you have any questions about the authenticity of a photograph in this digital age, then do a google photo reverse search.

Another photo that has been raising eyebrows on Social Media is one in which even the ground is yellow. Image Credit: TheInsider
Another photo that has been raising eyebrows on Social Media is one in which even the ground is yellow. Image Credit: TheInsider

A few weeks ago when the heavy rains hit Kampala, a fellow on Facebook posted a photograph depicting a line of trucks and vehicles all lying on their sides in a rather wide drainage trench, and declared Kampala a disaster area.

The derisive comments flowed like the floods that had purportedly washed the trucks into the drainage trench, but there was something not right about the photograph.

One quick google photo search later revealed that the very same photograph was actually taken in Accra in June 2015 after floods over there had ravaged parts of the city.

The way the Google Photo Search function works is it allows you to choose a photograph that you have either online or on your device, and upload it for the system to check the photograph against all others with the same elements and meta data.

I haven’t used it often, but after that experience with the Accra photograph I have tried it out a number of times – most recently when another campaign rally photograph turned up with some buildings that we don’t normally see in Kampala.

Google Reverse Photo search revealed it to be a photograph that had been uploaded weeks ago by Tanzanians during the campaigns of the two presidential candidates over there – NOT any of our own in Uganda.

The sad part of all this disinformation is that it can also lend itself to sabotage because the photographs are untraceable – which means that a fellow belonging to one political party can alter a photograph of another political party, circulate it widely, then “uncover” it as a fake…

It’s all very irritating and is bound to get much worse soon if we don’t keep checking everything that comes our way via social media over the next three months.

If the photographs are so tiring to sift through and you aren’t patient enough to do checks on them, then go to your app settings and turn off the auto-download feature.

You’ll spend less time deleting photographs, and more time doing whatever you enjoy doing unless you are like my designer friend.


Simon Kaheru

Lead Analyst at Media Analyst and Chairman of the ICT Association of Uganda (ICTAU). Simon writes about "technology for work and play" and his column for PC Tech is called "Don't Blink".

One Comment

  1. Who knows the person who did this and we just dismiss him/her from the journalism fraternity?

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