Mapping Visual Disinformation Campaigns with Maltego and TinEye
Maltego’s new TinEye reverse image search Transforms provide journalists, researchers, and investigators with the ability to easily map the spread of imagery online. Starting with an input image, or a collection of images, the tool provides insight into the communities and places where an image has been propagated.
This new Maltego data integration with TinEye is free for up to 50 images per day, with a free cap of 200 images per month. More searches can be bought from TinEye. To access this tool and get started immediately, register and download Maltego CE here.
Reverse Image Search with TinEye Transfroms in Maltego: Video Tutorials 🔗︎
Memetic content, such as memes or smartphone screenshots, subvert access control such as paywalls. These images transform across media formats while spreading between open and closed networks, leading to cross-platform propagation. These mechanisms allow nefarious actors to spread coordinated narratives anonymously without alerting systems designed to combat the spread of coordinated campaigns.
Maltego helps to automate the process of cross-referencing the propagation maps of individual images to find mutual hashtags, profiles, pages, or groups where two or more images within a dataset have appeared. Datasets for popular topics or custom needs can be obtained from memetic influence—providing tools + intelligence + content for tracking content through the internet— by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracking The Spread of A Single Image in Maltego Using TinEye Transforms 🔗︎
In this YouTube tutorial, Mitch Chaiet, the founder of memetic influence, demonstrates how users can trace the spread of a single image using TinEye reverse image search Transforms. This allows investigators to uncover new articles and blog posts containing the a specific image, as well as hashtags and social media posts to which images have propagated.
Investigators can then identify who was behind the spread, when the image was posted, how the image was altered, and how social media audiences reacted.
To look into the demonstration, download the Maltego graphs for the #YesWeCan investigation.
Tracking The Spread of Multiple Images in Maltego Using TinEye Transforms 🔗︎
While single image analysis can be useful in investigations, the true power of Maltego comes when multiple images are analyzed simultaneously—where common results might be shared between different images.
In this YouTube tutorial, we demonstrate how investigators analyze the soucing or propagation patterns in a coordinated content campaign with TinEye reverse image search Transforms in Maltego.
To take a deeper look at conducting reverse image search on multiple images, here are the download links of the Maltego graphs for the #brownberet investigation and the #africanamerican investigation.
What is Memetic Mis-/Disinformation? 🔗︎
Memetic information is user-generated content created in an environment that is often not subject to fact-checking or journalistic verification standards. It is propagated in a peer-to-peer manner through mediated channels such as group chats, comment threads, or user-uploaded video, and is propagated to the end viewer through a trusted peer source— like a friend, relative, or mutual chat/group member. (Chaiet 2019)
In the above image, a video shared by a member of a Facebook group claims that George Floyd, the subject of the 2020 US mass protests against police violence, is not dead. The video is composed of other social media posts combined with the creator’s commentary, creating a “playlist” of other social media posts combined into a new single piece of content. This practice is called “screen sampling” (Acker, Chaiet 2020).
User-generated imagery is widely shared on social media. Memetic content, such as smartphone screenshots and internet memes are graphically formatted into bite-sized narratives which are designed to spread through social media groups, comment threads, group chats, etc.
*The examples shown in this tutorial are from Engineering Inflammatory Content: A Memetic Analysis of Russian Social Media Propaganda.
How Memetic Content is Weaponized 🔗︎
Disinformation campaigns increasingly make use of memetic image assets to spread propaganda. In addition, coordinated actors within loosely organized fringe communities craft social media campaigns to promote their various ideologies. These organizations effectively spread non-factual and inflammatory narratives through the same mechanisms in which authentic memetic content travels.
Weaponized content is designed specifically to visually mimic the existing content generated and propagated by the target demographic. Nefarious actors are sourcing, co-opting, and editing authentic content in order to infiltrate existing target communities on social media. This allows actors to embed themselves within these in-group communities and seed crafted ideological narratives through the disguise of authentic and engaging user-generated content.
Monitoring and Identifying Memetic Mis-/Disinformaiton 🔗︎
Current mis/disinformation research and monitoring tools rely heavily on text analysis, such as identifying URL’s, hashtags, headlines, and articles shared through trackable metrics on social media. Quantifying the number of shares, comments, retweets, views, etc. by which this content spreads through social media results in intelligence and insights regarding which narratives spread the farthest and resulted in the highest impact.
However, memetic content subverts these existing, trackable metrics. Posts sharing an article on Facebook or Twitter can easily be found using its URL or headline. A screenshot of that same article posted on social media spreads the content just as easily but is not as easily tracked. Access to a conversation in a closed, private group chat can easily be unlocked by a screenshot posted to public social media.
Tools and services offered by memetic influence help newsrooms, intelligence firms, and companies analyze the spread of memetic imagery.
About the author 🔗︎
Mitch Chaiet is the founder of memetic influence providing tools + intelligence + content for tracking content through the internet. Find him mapping disinformation campaigns with teams from the Technology and Information Policy Institute and Center for Media Engagement at The University of Texas.