Check Yourself: Analyzing Compression in Misinformation

The amount of compression present within an image is indicative of the amount it’s been shared within a given community.

An image of a satirical check claiming protesters have been funded by various political organizations has circulated widely. By analyzing the compression of each place the image has been posted, we can measure how widely it’s been shared up until a particular point. Compression analysis can “fingerprint” versions of the same image, and provide a “geology” for where the image was taken from, and where it was propagated to.

The check spread to in-group communities where it was viewed as satirical, and out-group communities which contextualized the image as true. The meme originated from the following in-group, satirical Reddit post.

Reddit’s quarantined /r/FULLCOMMUNISM (Original, Archive, Image)

This image was initially posted to Reddit by user u/Seed_Eater on November 3rd, 2017 at 5:02 PM CDT. This version of the image is the least compressed, with a Visual Compression Score of 18.31994928. The check is also dated “11 03 2017”, matching the day it was posted to Reddit. The timestamp, lowest compression score, and matching date indicate that this post is the first instance of this image appearing online, and was likely created by the Reddit user u/Seed_Eater. This image was posted within an in-group, satirical context.

Reddit’s quarantined /r/COMPLETEANARCHY (Original, Archive, Image)

Little or no changes in compression indicate a cross post, where the same version of the image has been posted in two different places, or a repost, where the image has been shared from one place to another. This version of the image, posted 6 hours later on the same date to Reddit’s /r/COMPLETEANARCHY also shares a Visual Compression Score of 18.31994928. This is an example of propagation from one in-group community to another in-group community, and the satirical context is maintained.

@Antifa_HR on Twitter (Original, Archive, Image)

Roughly one year later, on Sept. 19, 2018, Twitter account @Antifa_HR posted a new version of the image, this time with a Visual Compression Score of 28.76058838. This change in compression indicates the image has spread a handful of times through various closed-source posts, in private groups or chats. It eventually reached the owner of this Twitter account, who then posted it.

@Golfergirl64jG on Twitter (Original, Archive, Image)

Most recently, a screenshot of a chat containing this image was shared by Twitter user @Golfergirl64Jg on September 24, 2020. Since she has not downloaded the file from Facebook and reuploaded the image to Twitter, we cannot make a direct compression comparison. However, comparing a sample from each of these images shows that this is the most compressed version of the image shared to date.

1. Reddit /r/FULLCOMMUNISM 2. Twitter @Antifa_HR 3. Twitter @Golfergirl64Jg

Given that this meme originated in a satirical space on Reddit, traveled to both in-group and out-group communities, and the heavier compression present in the most recently shared version, it is clear this image has been more widely shared within spaces which contextualize this image as genuine information.

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