Shortly after President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen was taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment of wound suffered in an attack by militants last week, a image began to surface on the Internet. The picture showed Saleh being treated by doctors in a hospital, but readers are now crying foul. The picture is a fake and someone has an agenda many have claimed.
Typically, verifying the authenticity of an image begins with evaluating the source. Who made the picture, where was it made, when was it made, why was it made? Even before looking at the picture for obvious signs of manipulation it is important to establish a context for the picture. Once the context -- who, where, when, why -- is establish then it is easier to validate a claim that the picture is real.
This may be changing. On Twitter, members chime in about the image and why it is a fake. Readers look at details such as lines and shadow. In addition, they look for misleading bits of information such as words or graphics. Looking at Storify's tweet stream it is easy to see the diverse range of perspectives and opinions of people who may or may not know what they are really looking.
Social media, in this way, allow people to engage in a virtual court of verisimilitude. Although many readers look at the tell-tale signs of an altered image -- sort of like a Where's Waldo puzzle -- a more important determinant is motive.
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are like barn yards -- whoever crows loudest gets the attention. At the same time, it is important to ground such casual armchair analysis with rationality. In this case, someone had a reason for posting the picture in order to confirm or reject the winds of public perception.