‘Sensible Fakes’ is a go to for investigative journalists looking for tailored proof

At the heart of it, Journalism is about evidence, and reporting something may require you to first gather all the set pieces in one place and then verify all of them, followed by putting out your own authentic piece.

Authenticity is a key factor when it comes to sound reporting and these days, most journalists rely on digital evidence. Digital evidence includes chats, emails, documents, database servers, and software portals.

Unlike human sources, which involve witnesses who were considered somewhat accountable and reliable, digital evidence can be far from reliable sometimes.

Especially due to the nature of how everything works in the online world. Digitalization brings anonymity and it paves the path for people with vested interests to manipulate things online.

Digital evidence isn’t just collected, but designed and made to look original. This gives it the required credible touch. If needed, the evidence gets backed with defined narratives and materials to make it look authentic.

Planting or fabricating digital evidence, or simply put, manipulating evidence like this is called “smart fakes”. Owing to smart fakes, journalists may get duped into believing untrue stories and further publishing them.

The most popular smart fakes include doctored emails sent from a domain name by party A to party B. Since email IDs from a domain name are on a private server it becomes hard to verify them. This is unlike Gmail and Hotmail, which could provide a third-party check.

Also, domains are easily bought and sold, which allows the architect to doctor these emails to create a fake email server with doctored content. This content is then distributed to journalists as screenshots.

Journalists share the newly-acquired piece of evidence with their known sources and get them verified at a domain expert level. That said, all the digital evidence online is designed for peripheral verification, which means it is only checked on the surface level.

Once a news piece with evidence and ‘sources’ gets published, it gets republished easily without feeling the need to cross-check by others. This leads to the publicity of fake news that can potentially create a lot of damage.

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