Digital Engagement Module

Lesson 8: Metadata

Before you start the lesson, make sure to read through the lesson overview and the lesson preparation. The Facilitator Guide can also help you prepare.

Lesson Overview

Lesson Preparation

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Begin Lesson


In a previous lesson, you learned how scrapes and memes are easily made, altered, and shared on social media. Now imagine you are a journalist who is reporting on a breaking news event. You are writing an article about the event, and you begin to search for photographs that relate to your event.

  • Why do you think it is important for a journalist to find the original version or the original person who took a photograph?

It is important for journalists to cite original sources, as often as possible, when covering news stories in order to show the general public that they have conducted proper research for their stories. Using original sources and following best practices such as crediting the person who created the image helps ensure that news consumers understand the original context of an image. Images may also be subject to various copyright laws when they are reproduced, displayed in a publication, or used by various non-profit or for-profit organizations.

Verifying the original content and the source also allows journalists to determine whether a news item is real or fake. Digital photographs, audio recordings, video footage, books, and other digital media contain metadata, or “data about data.” Every digital file has metadata; metadata information is attached to the media itself, and it can be used to search, organize, and filter information in the digital world.

  • When you take a photograph using your mobile phone, what information do you think your device captures about the image?

Metadata can include an item’s date and time of capture, GPS location, and even the camera model and/or settings used to capture the item.

EXIF data, one of the most useful types of metadata for images, can tell you when a photo was captured, when it was uploaded, and where it was captured (if the location setting on the person’s mobile device was turned on) (First Draft).

There are a number of free EXIF viewers online, including Metapicz,, and Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer.


Let’s take a look at the metadata from a sample image of a South African shark.

Click on this link. Then click on the image of the shark and kayaker. The image should then open on a new page. Highlight the link of the image and input it into Jeffrey’s Image Metadata Viewer. Click on “I’m not a robot” and then select the “View Image Data” button.

Review the metadata you see here.

Teacher's Note
This example is intended to make students think critically about the images they see and learn how to check the metadata available for the image. While the South African shark image is a great example to use, we encourage you to choose an image that will resonate with your students. If there is a local example that your students will connect with more, we recommend using that example instead.
  • What information has been captured from this image?
  • Why do you think the Modify Date in the EXIF table is different from the Date Created in the IPTC table?
Teacher's Note
Optional: Ask participants to turn to the person sitting next to them to discuss these questions in pairs.
  • Is this the original image captured by the photographer? How can we verify this information?

We cannot be completely sure that this image is the original captured by the photographer. As previously mentioned, metadata can be easily changed. To confirm whether this image is, in fact, the original, a journalist can try to contact Thomas Peschak to confirm whether this image is the original copy; the journalist could do so by asking to confirm individual pieces of metadata about the image such as the date and location of capture.

Although it can be a useful part of the verification process, metadata has several limitations:

  • Social media sites remove metadata, so people must try to get access to the original files when trying to verify news content. When you run images that have been posted on social media through an EXIF data viewer, you will not get any results. However, when you run an original image, you captured on your mobile device through the same EXIF data viewer, you will get results.
  • “Metadata is easily changed. You can even edit a photo’s EXIF data on your phone.” (First Draft)
  • There is no EXIF data for video. EXIF data viewers only work on original, static images.

The bottom line is that viewing an image’s metadata may help you gain additional information, but it is not a 100% foolproof method of information verification. If you are not looking at the original version, the metadata for the image will be incorrect. Therefore, when verifying news images, it is important to first identify the origin of an image before viewing its metadata.


Part 1


Now let’s see how an EXIF viewer works on actual images. For this activity, you can either use a picture that you have taken on your phone or a picture from Flickr’s The Commons Gallery ( Images from Flickr’s The Commons Gallery are from publicly-held photography collections with no known copyright restrictions. If participants are selecting a photo, they have taken themselves, remind them to be mindful of privacy concerns. For example, participants can choose to avoid photos with people in them.

Upload the picture onto one of the three, EXIF viewers we previously discussed: Metapicz,, or Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer.

  • What information do you see?

Part 2


Now take the same image and change it in some way (e.g., crop, rotate, edit the exposure, contrast, etc.). You could even take a screenshot of the image. Then upload this new image onto the same EXIF viewer.

  • Does the metadata change in any way?

Part 3


Now upload this image onto one of your social media accounts. Then take a screenshot of this post. Upload this screenshot onto the same EXIF viewer.

  • Does the metadata change in any way? How so?



Reflect on the metadata that you have seen in the assignment:

  • How can metadata be useful to journalists and news consumers?
  • What are the challenges of getting accurate metadata?
  • Why do you think cellphones/computers are designed to capture this information about images? Consider who might benefit from this information.

As we have learned, metadata can provide some helpful information about an image and its source, date of capture, and even location of capture. However, metadata can also be easily changed on a cellphone/computer or every time an image is uploaded to a new platform. Therefore, viewing an image’s metadata is only one step in the news verification process — one that should always come after identifying an original piece of content.


End Lesson

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