Overlays Can Help Journalists Avoid Amplifying Misinformation

These days, even good reporters can spread misinformation by posting a social-media screenshot to illustrate a story. 

The story may indicate the graphic is inaccurate, but people who pick it up won’t necessarily do so. 

One way around that is overlays — visual filters that are placed over images that contain misinformation, according to Nieman Lab. 

Nieman Lab defines overlays as “a tool for journalists to prevent amplification.” For instance, the overlay may flake an image containing fabricated content as a “Fake Tweet.” 

Overlays can also protect peoples’ identifies by blurring relevant parts of the image. Plus, they can prevent forgery or cropping and editing of the image by flagging the post. 

But there are limits. Overlays are meant for “images used within articles, not for those for social media,” Nieman Labs notes. 

Here are seven best practices for using overlays:

1. Watermark so the warning travel with the image. This is akin to the watermarking use on stock imagery. 

2.  Protect against forgery — Avoid flat colors and plain backgrounds. Add bespoke illustrations and marks that are not available to would-be forgers.

3. Make sure the warning is noticeable. Warn the user that the image is misinformed or manipulated.

4. Avoid judgmental tones. There is no need to shame posters.

5. Provide context — about the misinformation and the overlay. You might add a short explanation of why you added the overlay.

6. Make sure it meets accessibility standards. Aim to meet AA contrast standards with each image.

7. Provide a way for people to verify the overlay. This will protect your integrity — and your brand’s.
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