Image Moderation in the Age of Digital Manipulation

Woman's face being edited in Adobe Photoshop
UPDATED September 4, 2023
Written By Milliscent Lucio

Back during the internet’s infancy, movements were limited. The user interface was basic, the formats were limited, and you could only post small sizes of data.

Now, content in varying formats is created and posted all over the internet. On one hand, it allows people to express themselves in different ways. On the other hand, bad actors take advantage of these formats to spread inappropriate content.

One of the ways bad actors bypass content moderation is by resorting to image manipulation. To combat this, moderators utilize image content moderation to ensure a safe online space.

But, how exactly does image moderation work? Let’s dive into it.

Understanding Image Moderation

Definition and Purpose of Image Moderation

The internet is a place of unending user-generated content (UGC). It’s a place where you can share your thoughts, your experiences, and other kinds of information.

With the proliferation of smartphones and easy access to high-quality cameras, images have become increasingly prevalent on the internet. While visual media offers a compelling and engaging way to communicate, it presents distinct challenges for content moderation. Unlike text, which can be easily analyzed using automated systems and language filters, images require more sophisticated techniques to assess their appropriateness.

With different formats come different approaches to UGC moderation; thus, the utilization of image content moderation services. Image content moderation service simply refers to the review and analysis of images to determine their appropriateness, adherence to platform guidelines, and compliance with legal and ethical standards.

Key Challenges Faced By Moderators

1. Volume and Speed of Content Generation

Internet users are becoming younger and younger, contributing to the constant amount of data being posted online. Adding to this is the addition of several online outlets for UGC like social media sites, forums, and the like.

2. Contextual understanding

What might be amusing and lighthearted to one group could potentially be offensive, hurtful, or inappropriate to another. This diversity of perspectives and sensitivities emphasizes the need for content moderators to approach their role with a deep understanding of the community they serve and the potential impact of the content being shared.

3. Subjectivity and cultural differences

With a visual medium, moderators must diligently consider the visual elements presented, as they can inadvertently contain foul language, offensive symbols, or other forms of inappropriate imagery that may only be comprehensible to a specific group of individuals.

Techniques and Technologies Used in Image Moderation

1. Manual Moderation

Also called traditional moderation, manual moderation is the use of manpower to manually filter through UGCs. They sort through the queue of images and determine whether these are appropriate for posting.

Humans, with our innate understanding of tone and trends, are able to better discern the context of an image and determine whether it is safe to be posted or not.

However, human moderators have a hard time catching up with the amount of content being produced every day. While businesses can hire more content moderators, it is costly and difficult to maintain in the long run.

Not to mention the toll on the content moderators’ mental health after looking at potentially scarring visual content for an extended amount of time. They would need avenues for release and even counseling to deal with the mental and emotional toll.

2. Automated Moderation

Automatic image moderation uses artificial intelligence to moderate UGCs according to a predetermined set of rules and guidelines. With the help of machine learning (ML), AI can be taught what can and what cannot be posted.

With AI image moderation, the moderation process is more efficient as it can simultaneously filter through huge bulks of data. There is no need to onboard additional employees to keep up with the volume of content.

That being said, AI still has a long way to go. It cannot comprehend context as fast or as accurately as humans do.

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The Impact of Digital Manipulation

Rise of Photo Editing Tools and Software

Photo manipulation isn’t a recent thing. It can be traced quite a while back during the 1800s when methods were more practical. Photographers used mirrors, perspectives, backgrounds, and even paint over the actual photo. Sometimes, multiple photos even have to be pasted together to achieve the desired effect.

But with the creation of the image editing software Adobe Photoshop during the 1980s, photo manipulation became easier and more accessible. Nowadays, there is a lot of software to choose from.

The proliferation of smartphones has brought powerful editing capabilities right to our fingertips. The default editing software on modern smartphones allows users to effortlessly transform their images with just a few swipes and taps.

Widespread Use of Manipulated Images in Various Domains

Let’s face it, people want to present themselves in the most flattering way possible. This is commonly observed when people post pictures of themselves on social media. The opposite can also be true depending on the context of the post, in which people will edit the photo in the funniest way possible.

In some cases, people manipulate pictures to cause controversy and cause a stir in the media. People will edit someone doing something controversial or add ghostly apparitions, among others.

Another reason people edit photos is for marketing. Editing software is used to hide what goes on behind the scenes and to amplify the effect of the photo to the masses.

Negative Consequences of Digital Manipulation

1. Misinformation and Fake News

One notable motivation for manipulating photos is the intention to tarnish the reputation of others. In today's digital age, where information spreads rapidly and public perception holds significant weight, altering images can be a powerful means of swaying public opinion. By doctoring visuals to present individuals or groups in a negative light, manipulators can effectively damage reputations, provoke outrage, and sow discord within communities.

In some cases, photo manipulation is utilized as a weapon in the pursuit of broader agendas. Whether for financial gains or the propagation of specific ideologies, individuals with vested interests may employ edited images to manipulate public sentiment.

2. Body Image Issues and Unrealistic Beauty Standards

There’s an ever-present concern about how social media can exacerbate body image issues and unrealistic beauty standards. One major reason is due to the widespread use of image editing software to enhance their bodies. This is commonly observed among influencers on social media.

While it’s not wrong to want to look beautiful in a photo, one should be aware of the message they are sending. Those with impressionable minds are given the wrong idea and are influenced to do harmful habits to achieve the “ideal” body type.

3. Brand Reputation and Trust

In terms of marketing and branding, there needs to be a semblance of trust with the customers. Obvious or overdone image manipulation erodes that trust.

It sets up a higher expectation, that if left unfulfilled, would disappoint the customers. That disappointment reflects on the product reviews, frequency of recommendations, and your business’ reputation.

Addressing the Challenges

Advancements in Image Forensics

1. Detecting Manipulated Images

Manually looking for signs of editing takes a lot of time and effort. For faster processing and better accuracy, content moderators employ a number of content moderation tools to detect manipulated images.

  • Reverse Image Search

This is a simple technique that involves using a search engine. Simply upload the image or copy the image URL on the search engine and click search. The results will show you links where the image appears online along with some similar-looking images.

  • Metadata Analysis

Metadata, in its essence, can be defined as the data about data. It provides valuable insights into the history, characteristics, and context of a file or piece of information.

By delving into the metadata of a document, image, or any other digital asset, one can gain a deeper understanding of its journey and the changes it has undergone. This becomes particularly useful in scenarios where the integrity, authenticity, or origin of a file is in question.

  • Error Level Analysis (ELA)

Error level analysis is a powerful technique utilized in digital forensics and image analysis to uncover potential areas of interest within an image that may have undergone different levels of compression. This process involves examining the variations in compression artifacts across different regions of an image, which can provide valuable insights into potential tampering, alterations, or areas that require further investigation.

2. Identifying Deepfakes

Deepfakes have emerged as a highly sophisticated and concerning form of synthetic media that leverages the power of deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to create deceptive and misleading videos or images. These manipulated digital creations employ advanced machine learning techniques to alter or replace the faces and voices of individuals, making it appear as though they are saying or doing things they never actually did.

There are various indicators you can watch out for. But to speed up the process, image content moderators use the following techniques:

  • Facial Recognition Algorithms

This is a recognition technique that is used to detect the faces of people registered within a dataset.

  • Anomaly Detection

Also known as outlier detection, is the identification of suspicious instances that deviate from expected patterns or the majority of the data.

Collaborative Efforts Between Platforms, Experts, and Users

1. User Reporting and Feedback Mechanisms

Content moderation is a complex and challenging task, even with the aid of automated systems. The sheer volume of content generated on online platforms makes it impossible to catch every instance of inappropriate or violent material. As a result, both false negatives (allowing inappropriate content to remain visible) and false positives (incorrectly flagging harmless content) can occur.

However, the dynamic nature of content moderation allows for continuous improvement. Reporting and feedback mechanisms play a vital role in this process. Users are encouraged to report any instances where inappropriate content slips through the moderation process or when legitimate content is mistakenly flagged. These reports help content moderation teams identify and rectify errors, refine their algorithms, and enhance the overall effectiveness of the moderation system.

The reporting and feedback mechanisms serve as an important collaboration between users and content moderators, creating a feedback loop that promotes community engagement and platform improvement. By actively involving users in the moderation process, platforms can leverage the collective intelligence of the community to identify content that may have been missed or inaccurately assessed. This collaborative approach fosters a sense of shared responsibility in maintaining a safe and inclusive online environment.

2. Content Moderation Guidelines and Policies

By establishing clear policies and guidelines, platforms and communities can proactively set boundaries and provide users with the necessary guidance to shape their content creation in alignment with community standards.

The creation of policies and guidelines serves as a foundation for content moderation, offering users a framework that outlines acceptable behavior, content formats, and the types of content that are prohibited or restricted.

Training and Education for Moderators

Understanding the Nuances of Digital Manipulation

Detecting image manipulation is only going to get more challenging. Technology is getting better, getting more user-friendly, and more accessible.

A content moderation company providing image moderation service should encourage and actively participate in comprehensive training programs designed to equip them with the necessary skills to effectively navigate the complexities of image moderation. These training programs should encompass various aspects, including the understanding of different image editing software and techniques, as well as the ability to detect signs of image manipulation.

By honing their expertise in image manipulation detection, moderators become better equipped to distinguish between authentic and manipulated content.

Ethical Considerations in Image Moderation

Balancing Freedom of Expression and Content Moderation

Content moderation is a complex balancing act that strives to strike a delicate equilibrium between maintaining a safe online environment and upholding the principles of freedom of expression. While the primary objective of content moderation is to ensure user safety and prevent the dissemination of harmful or inappropriate content, it is crucial to avoid excessively curtailing individuals' right to express their thoughts and opinions.

A responsible and effective content moderation approach acknowledges the importance of allowing different perspectives, promoting robust discussions, and encouraging creativity while safeguarding against malicious activities and harmful content. Platforms and content moderation teams must adopt transparent and inclusive guidelines that clearly define what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable content, without suppressing legitimate expression or dissenting voices.

Protecting Privacy and Consent

One of the primary concerns in image moderation is the potential infringement of an individual's privacy. Images often contain personal information, visual representations of individuals, and details about their lives. Moderators must approach these images with a strong commitment to protecting the privacy of the individuals involved.

Respecting privacy rights means ensuring that images are handled in a manner consistent with applicable privacy laws and regulations. This includes obtaining the necessary consent from individuals before their images are published, shared, or used for any purpose. Consent should be informed, voluntary, and explicit, clearly outlining how the images will be used and providing individuals with the option to grant or withhold permission.

Transparency in Moderation Practices

Transparency and accountability are key principles in content moderation. Platforms should communicate their content policies and moderation practices to their users, ensuring clarity about the types of content that may be subject to moderation and the reasons behind moderation decisions. Open channels for dialogue, feedback, and appeals processes should also be established to allow users to express concerns and provide insights into the content moderation process.

Cultural Sensitivity and Avoiding Bias

Humans have a natural tendency to possess biases, and these biases can inadvertently influence content moderation decisions. When human moderators review and assess user-generated content, their subjective perspectives, cultural backgrounds, and personal beliefs may inadvertently impact their judgments. Biases can manifest in various forms, such as unconscious stereotypes, implicit preferences, or preconceived notions about certain groups or individuals.

AIs are not exempt from biases. AI systems learn from data, and if the training data contains biased or skewed information, the algorithms can inadvertently perpetuate and amplify those biases.

A Step Forward to a Clearer Future

As the internet expands into a multi-format realm of user-generated content, visual media presents unique challenges for content moderation. Moderating images requires a combination of advanced technologies, contextual understanding, and human oversight.

By leveraging sophisticated image recognition technologies, promoting user reporting and community engagement, and investing in continuous adaptation and training, platforms can effectively navigate the complexities of moderating visual content, fostering a safer and more inclusive online environment.

Both humans and AI systems are susceptible to biases in content moderation. Recognizing this reality is the first step towards developing strategies that mitigate biases and ensure fair and equitable moderation practices. Combining diverse and inclusive training data, ongoing evaluation, human oversight, and transparent communication can help address biases and promote a more inclusive and unbiased content moderation environment.

To uphold online safety and a healthy online community, consider partnering with Chekkee for image moderation solutions. With an unwavering commitment to excellence and an extensive range of cutting-edge image content moderation services, Chekkee can effectively address the challenges and risks associated with inappropriate or harmful images

Gain access to a team of highly skilled and experienced content moderators and advanced AI-powered algorithms. This combination of automation and human expertise allows for a thorough and meticulous evaluation of images, significantly reducing the likelihood of offensive, explicit, or harmful content slipping through the cracks.

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