Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Hoax!

Yet again there’s a thread in progress on Birdforum about an apparent hoax – this time an anonymous Twitter report of an Eyebrowed Thrush in a private garden at Hunstanton last weekend. I have to say that on the evidence available so far this one is looking like a hoax, but some of the arguments regularly trotted out on BF on these threads are somewhat spurious, to say the least. In particular a lot of people seem to have become fixated on ‘EXIF data’ whenever a photo of a contentious bird appears. Look at the EXIF data – that proves it’s a hoax. Someone’s removed the EXIF data – must be a hoax. No, it’s gen – the EXIF data fits with the claimed time of the sighting. Etc, etc.

OK, if the bird was claimed to have been seen at a particular time and the EXIF data is completely at odds with this (weeks or months out), then yes, be suspicious, but it doesn’t prove anything on its own. Many cameras will have incorrect times and dates – I just checked mine for the first time since I first set it up nearly three years ago, and although the date was right, the time was an hour and fifteen minutes ahead! Doesn’t say much for the clock chips Canon use. EXIF data can also easily be edited using various free programs, so even if it does fit with the claimed time and date of a sighting it’s completely irrelevant as evidence to support a claim.

But what about a total lack of EXIF data, as is the case with the Eyebrowed Thrush photo? Anyone who knows even a little bit about web design should be aware that photos should ideally be ‘saved for web’ to minimise browser loading times. This is even more important these days with so many people using mobile devices to browse the Internet. Obviously the majority of people don’t know this, which is why you see so many HUGE photos around that take forever to download on a phone. And many photos saved at low jpeg settings, which consequently look a lot worse than they would if they were properly optimized. But people who do know what they’re doing save everything for web in Photoshop. As well as optimizing the image so you get the best possible quality whilst keeping the file size small, this also completely removes the EXIF data. There is absolutely nothing sinister or suspicious about this – in fact in an ideal world it would be normal practice for anyone uploading photos to the web.

If you look at any photo of mine anywhere on the Internet (flickr, LROS website, this blog etc) you will not see any EXIF data, and the date shown will be the date I saved the file (which could be months later), not when the photo was taken.* Does that mean I’m a hoaxer? Well, I was in Hunstanton on Sunday......

* - a perfect example of this is the first Humming-bird Hawk-moth photo on my flickr page - it says authoritatively: 'This photo was taken on November 6th 2011'. No, it wasn't - it was taken on September 27th 2011, but because there's no EXIF data, flickr gives this completely spurious date, which is just the date the file was created. As far as I know there's no way of turning this off - if I could, I would.

9 comments:

Earl Gray or Dave for short! said...

Hoaxer!?! ;)

beast said...

Didn't know all that stuff about EXIF data Andy...very interesting!
Maybe some o the BF birding boffins who are obsessed with this data might like to comment here..?

That aside, all i'd like to say about 'that' Eye-browed photo is that its shit...and quite honestly it looks as tho it may have been lifted from another photo...[such is the crap quality]..

It could all be true of course...but i doubt it....especially when someone just opens up a twitter account to report the rarity...[which apparently is the case here]..?

There are some seriously sad sick fucko's who lurk around the birding world who would definitely qualify as 'care in the community' types...

I think that they should all just chill out...take a step back...and have an enormous wank...

The Leicester Llama said...

Out of interest I also looked at the photos I took on Shetland in October with Mark's Samsung compact camera - according to the EXIF data on those I took them in January 2010!! Perhaps I just pretended I'd been to Shetland last month?

The Leicester Llama said...

Colin - they can comment if they like, but there's nothing anyone can say which will change the fact that looking at EXIF data (or the lack of it) tells you fuck all about when a photo was actually taken (unless there are two copies of the same photo with differing data, which is the only way to prove that it's been altered). So there's no point in bringing it up every time this happens!

I do agree entirely with your comments on 'that thrush' though - if it was genuine, the person who reported it really can't complain if no-one believes him. If you want people to believe you, put your name to the sighting and be judged by the same criteria as every other record. Sending in an anonymous Twitter report is guaranteed to make everyone think it's a hoax...

And if it's at a site where there's genuinely no chance of access for all, keep properly quiet about it rather than this stupid 'I know something you don't' playground type crap, which is basically all reporting a suppressed bird is.

beast said...

From what you say Andy then EXIF data, or even lack of, is very unreliable in trying to 'out' a hoaxer.

I have a more simple test/question:

"Is the person who has claimed some rarity a known mental delusional cunt"....?

ps...on the flip side of this issue it must be very uncomfortable for someone who is 'not known' when claiming a rarity...

Those 'genuine' folk i have sympathy for...

The Leicester Llama said...

Agree, but I doubt very much if a genuine 'unknown' person finding an Eyebrowed Thrush in their garden would choose to go down the route of releasing the news anonymously via Twitter. Surely even someone who knew nothing about the birding scene could see that that's asking for trouble!

And even if they did, would they not be likely to 'come out of the anonymous closet' once they saw that everyone was crying 'hoax'? This person has already tweeted about the bird again after seeing it being rubbished on the Surfbirds forum. VERY much in the style of that Joe Pell (of Short-toed Eagle fame), if you ask me.

But if it is just some attention seeking nutter, doing it anonymously is very odd - yes, they're getting attention, but no-one knows who they're giving all this attention to! Fuck me, some people are weird....

beast said...

Exactly what i thought...very Pell-ish...and the original tweet did originate from Lincs...[or so it is claimed]..?

May be a case of 2+2=5....who knows...and who really cares...?

At least you can be reasonably confident that you didn't miss out on the Thrush at Hunstanton...[Turdus Suspiciousa Bolloxus]...

The Leicester Llama said...

And now the entire thread appears to have been removed, along with the '400 in a year?' one. Not moved, as far as I can see, or closed, but removed completely with no explanation.

The Leicester Llama said...

I was wrong - those two threads have been moved to the 'Birds and Birding' section, although there is nothing in their original place to say that they were moved.

Let's see if this posts properly - the last two comments I've left on Blogger blogs have resulted in some stupid error message....