13 Using Google Reverse Image Search

Most of the time finding the origin of an image on Twitter is easy. Just follow the links. For instance, take the chart in this tweet from Twitter user @NinjaEconomics. Should you evaluate it by finding out who @NinjaEconomics is?

A tweet by user @NinjaEconomics that reads “On January 3, the #GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth in Q4 2016 is 2.9%” and shows a chart about the GDP forecast.

No. Just follow the link to the source. Links are usually located in the last part of a tweet. As you can see, the chart is accompanied by more information about the data and how it was produced. It is from the Atlanta Federal Reserve, and it is the Federal Reserve, not @NinjaEconomics that you will evaluate.

The photo (below), was posted without a source and this generates questions.

A tweet by @unsmokable that reads “the life of a national geographic photographer” and shows a photo of a man standing on volcanic terrain and looking through a camera situated on a tripod. The photographer’s shoes and tripod have flames around them.

First, is this actually a National Geographic photographer? More importantly, is this real? Is that lava so hot that it will literally set a metal tripod on fire? We are not lava experts so we will have to find the truth.

There is no link provided, so we will use the reverse image search. If you’re using Google Chrome as a browser, put the cursor over the photo and right-click (control-click on a Mac). A “context menu” will pop up and one of the options will be “Search Google for image.” For the sake of simplicity we will show solutions in this text as they would be implemented in Chrome.

A closer crop of the tweet by user @unsmokable showing the results when a viewer right-clicks/control-clicks on the image.

When we reverse search this image, we find several pages that contain the photo from a variety of sites. One of the sites returned is Reddit. Reddit is a site that is famous for sharing these sorts of photos, but it also has a reputation for having a user base that is very good at spotting fake photos.

Results from a Google reverse image search on the photo from Twitter user @unsmokable’s tweet.

When we go to the Reddit page, we find there is an argument over whether the photo is fake or not. But again, Reddit is not our source here and we need to explore further. We click the link in the Reddit forum that says it is real, and get taken to an article where they actually talk to the photographer.

A Reddit post titled, “In the heat of the moment” with comments debating over the photo of the photographer with flaming shoes and a tripod.

That brings us to one of the original stories about this photo:

An article by Katie Hosmer titled “Hot Lava Sets Adventurous Photographer’s Feet on Fire.”

We could stop here and just read the headline but all good fact-checkers know that headlines are not always truthful.  So we read the article down to the bottom:

For this particular shot, Singson says, “Always trying to be creative, I thought it would be pretty cool (hot!) to take a lava pic with my shoes and tripod on fire while photographing lava.”

This may be a bit pedantic, but we still do not know if this was a staged event. Contrary to the headline, the photographer does not say lava made his shoes catch on fire. He says he wanted to take a picture of himself with his shoes on fire while standing on lava.

So did his shoes catch on fire, or did he set them on fire? At the bottom of this page, we can see that this is a retelling of an article published elsewhere; it is not this publication who talked to the photographer. It is a similar situation to what we saw in an earlier chapter, where the Blaze was simply retelling a story that was investigated by the Daily Dot.

A close up of the article by Katie Hosmer showing the text “via [PetaPixel].”


In webspeak, “via” means you learned of a story or photo from someone else. In other words, we still have not located the source. So we go to the PetaPixel site from whence this photograph came. There we find an addendum on the original article:

 So a local news outfit has confirmed the photographer did use an accelerant. The photograph was indeed staged. Are we done now?

Not quite. You know what the next step is, right? Go to Hawaii News Now!

We click the link, and we find that the quote is good. Also, Hawaii News Now is a local news service, so they know quite a bit about lava fields. That is probably why they asked the question no one else seemed to ask – “Is that really possible?”

Finally,  let’s find out about Hawaii News Now. We start by selecting Hawaii News Now and using our Google search option:

Close up of the PetaPixel site showing the results when a reader right-clicks/control-clicks on the Hawaii News Now link.


What we get back is pretty promising. There is a Google knowledge panel that comes up and tells us it is a bona fide local news program from a CBS affiliate in Hawaii.

The Google results from searching “Hawaii News Now.”


We could stop here. We have solved this riddle. The photographer was really on hot lava, which is impressive in itself, but used some accelerant (such as lighter fluid) to set his shoes and tripod on fire. Additionally, the photo was a stunt, and not part of any naturally occurring National Geographic shoot. We’ve traced the story back to its source, found the answer, and got confirmation on the authoritative nature of the source.

We are sticklers for making absolutely sure of this; therefore, we are going to continue on, and click on the Wikipedia link to the article on the Google knowledge panel to make sure we are not missing anything.


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Web Literacy for College Students 2nd Ed Copyright © 2020 by NSCC and Michael A. Caulfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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