This morning, Adobe released research that dives into how Americans experience and think about the impact of altered images online. Led by lead researcher Graeme Trayner, the company surveyed 800 consumers and 400 creative professionals across the U.S. to come up with three research summaries that best describe views regarding altered images.

Three online focus groups were also held, with participants being split into groups representing those under 40, those over 40 and creative professionals.

The research follows Adobe’s release of the CAI prototype in Photoshop, revealed in October during Adobe MAX.

1) Alterations to digital content intended to deceive or mislead are driving a corrosive loss of trust in facts and truth.

In its study, Adobe found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of Americans frequently come across fake images online, while 42% report having seen somebody else like or share a fake image.

With that known, six out of 10 say they believe they personally do a good job at identifying whether an image has been altered or not. This included adjustments like cropping, face tuning and adding filters. However, they also felt as if they lacked the education and training to identify images that have been professionally edited.

Participants also reported second guessing the things they heard (68%).

Surprisingly, less than a quarter of participants (23%) says that knowing the person who shared an image online helps them sort out whether to trust the image or not.

Finally, when it comes to news coverage, roughly two-thirds or more expressed concern that fake images will cause people to believe misleading information (74%), distrust the news (69%), no longer take the news seriously (68%) or tune it out entirely (63%).

2) Consumers want to be armed with information and tools to make better decisions about altered content. Creators have a particularly important role to play in this regard.

Somewhat surprising the fact that participants did not place sole responsibility for solving the problem of altered content on any one group. Research suggested that everyone has a role to play:

  • 35% said the media is most responsible for addressing the issue
  • 25% said that companies that provide a platform to share images publicly are responsible
  • 19% said that companies that provide tools to alter images are responsible
  • 19%  said that the government should be responsible

Consumers also stated that 19% of this responsibility should be placed on creative professionals, with creatives holding themselves at a greater rate (27%).

Participants also voiced strong support for having tools and information to sort out what to trust. “Increased access to information about the original source of the image (70%) and how an image is made (66%) are seen as effective solutions to limit the consequences of altered images online.”

Participants responded positively to the idea of placing a tag on digital images (63%). This plays into the Content Authenticity Initiative’s initial goal, to help consumers see information of the original work as well as its edits. They also found the idea compelling, helping to make their own decisions:

  • 72% said it will enable people to decide for themselves whether they trust what they’re looking at
  • 72% said it will enable people to make better decisions and develop informed opinions about issues in the news
  • 70% said it will raise awareness of misinformation without regulatory overreach
  • 70% said it will raise awareness of misinformation without removing content from the internet or threatening free speech

Finally, consumers believed that the three most effective investments in educating and training are in regard to checking for multiple sources (30%), how to spot common red flags (29%) and teaching digital literacy in K-12 education (24%).

3) The creative community is faced with theft and plagiarism online, often compromising their work.

For photographers and other creative professionals, the results were overwhelmingly positive in the direction of placing a tag on digital images, with 73% supporting the idea of it. An even larger number (83%) said that “this would ensure creators and artists get credit for their work.”

More than eight in 10 creative pros (86%) reported worrying about having their work stolen or plagiarized, with 75% having experienced it at least once. Roughly one-third reported they have experienced it many times (34%).

What’s this mean for the CAI and photographers?

While these conclusions shouldn’t surprise anyone on the creative professional end, having this much interest in attribution and content protection from consumers can be seen as incredibly positive. Though there are tools on the market today to spot stolen images, there are no attribution tools that are built into a photographers’ workflow, outside of a basic watermark or copyright.

As creatives, we should be excited to see what the CAI will offer in terms of helping to better protect our work. Likewise, on the consumer side, we should be excited to see that “fake news” is finally being looked at when it comes to imagery.