FactCheck Social Media

Metadata does not prove Victorian premier pic was taken in 2017

2021-03-24 14:11:48

The Statement

A video post claims an image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in hospital posted to his social media accounts this month was actually taken in 2017.

The video, shared to Instagram by an Australian account on March 15, trawls the photo’s metadata using the website, FotoForensics. The clip highlights the “Profile Date Time” field showing 2017:07:07.

“Photo forensics of the photo that Premier Daniel Andrews released online shows that it’s an image dated 07/07/2017. Enjoy the show 🍿,” the caption reads.

At the time of writing, the post had attracted more than 16,000 views and more than 460 likes.

An Instagram post
 A post claims an image of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in hospital was taken in 2017. 

The Analysis

Photos taken on digital devices contain metadata, which is text information about the image and its production. The metadata highlighted in the video appears under the sub-heading ICC, which refers to the device’s International Color Consortium (ICC).

FotoForensics explains ICC is a system used to ensure colours are displayed uniformly regardless of the device on which they are viewed.

“Within the ICC Profile is the “Profile Date Time” field. This indicates when the ICC profile was initially generated… In most cases, the ICC Profile’s date predates the photo by years since it was generated long before the photo was captured,” the website explains.

Experts independently confirmed to AAP FactCheck that ICC metadata has nothing to do with the date of when a photo was taken.

Timestamps are typically contained in Exif (Exchangeable Image File) data along with other information about camera settings, the make/model, lens and more.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter generally strip Exif data from a photo when it is uploaded as a way to help protect users’ privacy.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was admitted to hospital on March 9. In a statement, he said he had fallen on “wet and slippery stairs”, resulting in “several broken ribs and vertebrae damage”.

Mr Andrews subsequently released updates on social media, including on his condition, his recovery timeline and a photo of him moving out of the intensive care unit which was shared on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts on March 13, 2021.

The same photo was published widely in the media on the same date, including The Age, SBS News and the Herald Sun. It also appears in AAP’s photo library, credited to: Twitter, @DanielAndrewsMP.

Esther Chan, the Australian bureau editor at First Draft, a non-profit organisation collaborating in the research and verification of misinformation, said the date in the video does not relate to when the photo was taken.

“The ‘profile date time’ highlighted in the video (i.e. 2017) is the date and time when the ICC profile (colour display) used by the image was first created, so it has nothing to do with the time when the Daniel Andrews’ photo was taken,” Ms Chan told AAP FactCheck by email.

Dr Manoranjan Mohanty, a UTS Sydney lecturer at the Centre for Forensic Science, told AAP FactCheck the ICC profile was developed to standardise colour displays for screens of different devices.

“To understand what the ICC_Profile is, we have to understand that all devices are not manufactured the same,” Dr Mohanty explained via email.

“As a result, they do not treat a colour photo in the same way. For example, two monitors can display the colours of the same photo differently – one can display ‘red’ a bit more shiny whereas the other can display it as dull.”

Nathan Ruser, a researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told AAP FactCheck the metadata field in the video bears no relation to the photo itself.

“These profiles are generally developed years before the image gets taken, and all it can tell you with certainty is that the photo was taken after that Profile Date Time field. In this case, it also tells us that the photo was processed on an Apple device,” he said in an email.

“Any photo taken with that same device would have the same data profile for the ICC profile, irregardless of what date the image was actually taken.”

Dr Mohanty also confirmed the ICC profile data of a photo and its Exif data are different.

“But for popular social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, most of the Exif data, including the date when the photo was taken, is stripped for privacy reasons from an uploaded photo,” he said.

Ms Chan added: “You would want to check the Exif data of the photo to find out when it was actually taken. However, that is usually only available with the original file, i.e. not a screenshot of the photo uploaded to (Mr) Andrews’ social (channels), or a version of that photo downloaded to your computer.”

Solely relying on the Exif data of a specific item is also not a foolproof way to date an image, according to Dr Mohanty.

“Exif metadata can be easily modified,” he said. “There are even some online tools to modify Exif data of an image.”

AAP FactCheck requested a copy of the original photo from Mr Andrews’ office before it was shared on social media to verify its date of capture, but his office declined.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
 The photo published on the official Twitter account of Daniel Andrews dated March 13, 2021. 

The Verdict

The FotoForensics site shown in the video explains that “Profile Date Time” information in image metadata relates only to the ICC profile of the device used to capture the photo.

Experts confirmed to AAP FactCheck this piece of data was not the image timestamp, and could not be used to prove the photograph of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in hospital was taken on July 7, 2017.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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