Real or fake? Knowing the difference between real and altered photos on social media

Posted at 12:44 AM, Aug 07, 2018

TUCSON, Arizona — Just about everyone is on social media these days. But with filters and photo editing apps, it can be hard to determine what's real and what's fake. 

Taking a photo and editing it before you post it isn't new. But now, you can make yourself look thinner, taller, or even change your skin tone. Experts say what's concerning is when people think those altered photos are real.

The pressure is higher than ever to look perfect online. The movie, 'Eighth Grade' shows a young girl's struggle with being herself in a day where posts on social media aren't always what meets the eye.

Diana Daly, assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of Arizona, says there's both good and bad when it comes to using filters and editing photos.

The good is the ability to be creative with images. But the trouble starts when teens can't tell the difference between real and modified pictures.

"Even when youth know that people are doing this, or have done it themselves, they're not very good at recognizing what's unrealistic in these images," Daly said.

A lot of popular apps give users the capability to smooth skin, patch imperfections, and even reshape your body. 

"I mean, I use it sometimes, too, when I'm like, 'oh, I want to post a selfie but I have an imperfection or something," Scarlett Lorin said. 

The 19-year-old U of A student doesn't think seeing edited photos can have negative affects on people.

"I feel like it just portrays like a not very accurate picture of themselves," she said. "However, if it's just like one or two things, to me, it doesn't really make a difference. Like, it's really hard to tell sometimes."

Caitlin Moffett says she doesn't take any photo too seriously.

"It's kind of like a fun game to try to figure out if it's real or not," Moffett said.

Daly says young people who try to meet the same standards in altered photos may develop deeper issues like eating disorders. 

She encourages parents to look at pictures with their children to determine what's real and what's not.