How to spot a fake image from the real deal

A shark swimming down a flooded road. A bunch of missiles blasting off in unison during an Iranian missile test.

At first glance they might seem reasonable, but digitally altered images are everywhere, spreading like wildfire on news sites and social media.

So how can you tell if that photo your uncle shared on Facebook is authentic — or has been manipulated?

Image forensic experts have a few tools to spot images that have been tinkered with.

Algorithms can spot cloned areas, like the extra Iranian missile inserted into a launch photo (although, just looking at it, that one is pretty obvious).

Other techniques include building a virtual 3-D model from scratch to analyse the way light falls on a scene.

But for the average person without access to these tools, nor the skills or time to properly pick apart dodgy-looking images, there are a few basic things we can do, said Hany Farid, a computer scientist and digital forensics expert at Dartmouth University in the US.

Reverse image search

Let’s start simple. When he sees an image pop up on Twitter or Facebook, Dr Farid likes to see if it’s been on the internet before by doing a reverse image search, using Google Images or TinEye.

“Every time there’s a natural disaster, people circulate the same silly images of sharks swimming down the street,” Dr Farid said.

If an image has been recirculated from another website, or repurposed for whatever disaster has most recently struck, they’ll can be discovered with a reverse image search.

Better yet, you might find the image debunked on or another outlet.

Get image metadata

So a photo has passed the reverse image search. Next, try burrowing into its metadata — the swathe of information that’s added to the photo by the camera.

“There are many websites where you can upload an image and it will strip out the metadata and show it to you,” Dr Farid said.

This includes the make of the camera, time of day the photo was snapped and GPS coordinates, if that’s enabled.

Better yet, if the image was opened in Photoshop and re-saved, it will tell you that too.

“When you edit an image, it adds its own little bit of metadata,” Dr Farid said.

You might also find a thumbnail — a small version of the original photo — saved with the image, said Richard Matthews, a PhD candidate researching digital image forensics at the University of Adelaide.

“All this happens in the background with you press the shutter,” he said.

This won’t work with all photos. Anything uploaded to Twitter and Facebook will have its metadata automatically stripped, which the companies say is for users’ privacy.

Light and shadows

Time to crack out the ruler and a pencil: the next method is super low-tech.

Shadows and light can reveal objects that have been moved or popped into a photo.

Dr Farid, who studies the human visual system, found that if he showed people images with shadows that were not physically possible, they rarely noticed.

But this also means forgers are also unable to see inconsistent shadows too.

“They don’t notice, but the simple geometric construction is able to uncover it.”

Basically, you rule a line from a point on an object to the corresponding point on its shadow. Do this for a load of points and the lines should converge on the light source.

For an outdoor scene, the lines should be pretty much parallel, as the Sun is 150 million kilometres away.

Take the photo below on the left and the altered image on the right.

The person on the steps and her shadow were snipped out of a different photo and dropped in.

It doesn’t look too bad — until you use the ruler method.

Red lines, joining her and her shadow, aren’t parallel with the green lines drawn between objects and shadows in the rest of the scene.

Use photo or imaging editing software

If you suspect an object has been deleted from a image, software such as Photoshop or Pixlr can uncover telltale signs.

It relies on exaggerating very subtle differences that aren’t usually visible. Even deep blacks contain a whole range of brightnesses, Dr Farid said.

“If someone goes in and erases something, you’ll see a chunk of solid black, everything’s missing,” he said.

Check out this lovely summer Melbourne landscape. It’s missing a couple of buildings on the right.

Play around with the contrast, brightness and exposure, and you start to see these solid colour blocks, suggesting something’s missing.

What not to do

You might be enticed by online tools which claim to identify hoax images. Don’t be sucked in, Dr Farid said.

“The fact is this stuff is pretty complicated and you really have to have a deep understanding of physics and optics and how cameras work and how compression works,” he said.

Ah yes, compression. Most images online are compressed by JPEG — a “lossy” compression method.

It shrinks a file size by taking each eight-by-eight-pixel block in an image, processes them, and discards some of the information.

“The thing with JPEG is it introduces artefacts into the image and in particular, if you notice you have a particularly low-quality jpg image, you get what are called blocky artefacts,” Dr Farid said.

These blocky artefacts — strong horizontal and vertical lines — can look a little like something’s been added to or removed from an image.

On top of these, JPEG compression can produce colour distortions and blurring.

The eyes can also tell a story, Mr Matthews said. Zoom in on someone’s pupils and they should reflect the light source.

“If it’s a flash in a studio, you can see it in higher resolutions,” he said.

If a group of people have been photoshopped together, reflections in their pupils might not all be the same … but Dr Farid exercises caution when it comes to eyes.

“It is possible that in a room there are different light sources,” he said.

“If they’re all consistent, that can tell you something useful. If they’re different, though, the are other possible explanations,” such as multiple flashes.

What about video?

Dr Farid’s “a little worried” about realistic computer-generated videos.

“But when you dig in forensically, they’re not even close to being able to fool a scientist,” Dr Farid said.

Incredibly, an algorithm developed by computer scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology can pick up the subtle colour changes in a person’s face as their heart pumps blood.

“A computer-generated person doesn’t have a heartbeat. So when you do this to them, it’s a literal flat line,” Dr Farid said.

Of course, he added, this blood flush will be added to computer-generated videos in a few years, “but that’s going to be the game”.

But he’s confident that he and other digital forensics experts will be able to stay ahead of the game.

In the meantime, Dr Farid said the best defence against fake images and videos is to stop and think about their source before sharing them on social media.

“Think about how fast people digest digital content. Someone’s rarely going to spend three hours analysing an image, even if they had the tools to do it,” he said.

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‘Time capsule’ web series celebrates characters of Melbourne’s west

Posted February 02, 2018 12:28:48

A new series of short web documentaries celebrates the characters who define Melbourne’s western suburbs.

We Are West has so far featured little-known locals as well as household names such as furniture retailer Franco Cozzo and youth worker Les Twentyman.

Local filmmaker Laurens Goud moved to Williamstown with his mother he was 11 years old and now lives in Altona.

“I didn’t move too far,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne‘s Richelle Hunt.

He said the idea for the web series came from local businessman Marty Rankin.

“[He] came to us and said, ‘I want to make a time capsule of the way that the west is’,” Mr Goud recalled.

Together they came up with a plan to produce a series of short documentaries featuring “some of the characters that are famous, and even some of the stories that are less famous”.

“We’re not all going to be around forever, so if we don’t go about capturing the way that the west is now, we won’t be able to remember what it was.”

Famous and not-so-famous

The series started in November with a video telling the little-known story of Peter and Lola Anderson from community group Friends of Cruickshank Park.

“[They’re] an adorable pair who put in a lot of work to make Cruickshank Park what it is today,” Mr Goud said.

He said the Yarraville park was “an amazing resource for the west”.

“I walked my dog there so many times without any idea about the amount of work that went into creating that.”

The series returned this year with a video featuring high-profile youth worker Twentyman, before releasing its most recent episode on the furniture king Cozzo.

The Italian immigrant is famous locally for his television commercials and love of baroque furniture.

Mr Goud described Mr Cozzo as “genuine” and said he was “one of the most amazing people to meet”.

“We actually just walked in [to the furniture store] and he was at the back of the store in his office,” Mr Goud said.

“We said, ‘We’re doing this series, love to talk to you’, and off we went.

“We could have cut a much longer story there; he wasn’t afraid to talk, as you could imagine.”

In the video Mr Cozzo talks about the early days of his business, and says the inner western suburb is “better than Toorak”.

“I will say, ‘West is the best’.”

‘Genuine’ stories for social media

Mr Goud said with the first few episodes the producers were testing to see if there was an audience on Facebook for these sorts of local stories.

“Social media, there’s so much action and people jumping up and down for attention,” he said.

“We sort of thought: ‘We think that there’s an audience for genuine stories, for real people, but let’s go out and find out if that’s the case’.

“If we have people watching and enjoying what we’re trying to do, then we’ll keep making the stories.”

Topics: documentary, internet-culture, social-media, television, community-and-society, people, human-interest, footscray-3011, williamstown-3016, braybrook-3019, altona-3018, melbourne-3000

Instagrammers beating destructive path to Tasmania’s natural gems

Updated January 22, 2018 07:29:57

The sharing of stunning photos on social media is becoming a destructive force as Instagram trophy hunters beat a path to Tasmania’s natural gems, warns professional photographer Jason Futrill.

Futrill said waterfalls and alpine areas were being trampled underfoot by Instagrammers seeking to claim their own version of shots they’ve admired online.

And, as he is the first to admit, Futrill has been part of the problem — some of the degradation he has witnessed has been a direct result of his own photos being widely shared.

In a blog post, he called for photographers, tourism accounts and travel websites to reflect on their own impact and take more responsibility for the conservation of the photos they post and share.

Futrill described a chain of events starting with ego-massaging reactions to a nice photo, followed by requests for the location, followed by a travel account sharing the photo with a multiplier effect, followed by a swelling number of people sharing it or adding it to their Tasmanian itinerary or weekend wish list.

Before long, a stream of snappers and bushwalkers will be beating a path to that (often fragile) location.

The process prompted Futrill to ask:

“Are we slowly but surely causing some of the most beautiful, previously out-of-reach, unknown and hard-to-find locations to die a slow [or in some cases, a very, very quick] death?”

The awareness of his own direct role in the degradation of places like Chasm Falls in the Meander State Forest forced Futrill to reflect on the consequences of his photo sharing.

“I was the first to publish it [Chasm Falls] to a large social media profile and literally a week later a huge amount of traffic started to go into the area,” he told the ABC.

“I’ve been in recently and all of the moss has gone.

“The whole area had just become degraded now as a result of sharing that location.”

‘It will never recover’

At not-so Secret Falls in Wellington National Park near Hobart, Futrill said the toll of an Instagram-fuelled spike in visitation was alarming.

He said there were paths appearing that weren’t there just a few years ago.

“There’s just literally tracks that are just now mudslides. All of the ferns, the foliage, the moss — everything that used to be in there — has just been torn out because people just don’t respect the area, and the foot traffic that we’ve caused,” he said.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve done to it now from sharing that location is it will never recover.

“Everyone’s chasing their own unique compositions which leads to the whole area being destroyed.”

‘Conservationist message missing’

Once, before Instagram, before the internet even, the stunning landscape photos of Peter Dombrovskis sold the Tasmanian wilderness as a public asset to be protected.

In particular, his photos helped make Australia care about the fate of the Franklin River as the prospect of damming it loomed in the early 1980s.

Futrill said such a strong environmental conscience was missing from Instagram’s follow-me culture.

Added to that was a false sense of accessibility to isolated and precarious locations.

Futrill said he no longer posted photos of Lake Oberon in the Southwest National Park, which involves a multi-day round trip hike to reach, but “I still get asked about this location more than anything else”.

“Everyone wants to go to Lake Oberon and there’s a belief that it’s a day trip.”

Promotion of World Heritage areas questioned

Futrill said Tourism Tasmania’s Instagram account @tasmania, which has almost 380,000 followers, was part of the problem in its keenness to repost photos from Wilderness World Heritage Area (WWHA) sites.

While these areas are open to many recreational activities, they are not equipped to handle a steady stream of tourists like, say, the Bruny Island Neck Lookout or the Three Capes Track.

Tourism Tasmania’s posts do contain advisory messages about the difficulty of reaching certain locations, but Futrill said its marketing clout was helping to drive huge traffic into undeveloped areas of environmental significance and sensitivity.

“That’s the whole point of them being designated ‘World Heritage’ — so they’re protected forever,” he said.

“They’re [Tourism Tasmania] not thinking about the environmental protection — that’s not the message they’re delivering.”

‘We reinforce the leave no trace message’

The Tourism Tasmania social team scans Instagram photos with particular hashtags and shares about 18 per week to its followers.

Thousands of photos are tagged #discovertasmania or #tassiestyle, leaving Tourism Tasmania spoiled for choice when it comes to beautiful images to inspire someone to visit.

The images serve to promote the location as a destination while boosting the personal account of the source photographer — a promotional win-win.

When asked what consideration Tourism Tasmania puts into the environmental impact of increased foot traffic to areas it promotes, a spokesperson replied:

“We consider a number of elements when selecting images for reposting, that show a range of travel experiences to appeal to a broad range of travellers, interests and activity levels, including a spread of images from across Tasmania’s regions,” they said.

“Tourism Tasmania regularly reinforces the ‘leave no trace’ or ‘pack it in, pack it out’ messages when sharing images of wilderness areas.”

Ethical photo guide

Whether or not other Instagram photographers or tourism groups adopt a similar practice to Mr Futrill remains to be seen.

But as the hunt to capture Tasmania’s scenic treasures is not about to stop, one group has taken action to try and limit the damage.

Natural Resource Management South has published a guide to ethical nature photography in Tasmania.

The guide’s final section is devoted to “social media culture”.

Point three in their tips on the subject reads:

“If you are going to share images of nature online, consider using them as a platform to raise awareness about nature conservation and threats to the subject of your photos.”

Topics: social-media, photography, environmental-impact, tourism, lifestyle-and-leisure, travel-and-tourism, environment, tas

First posted January 22, 2018 06:14:08

Facebook and Google pose ‘clear and present threat’ to civil society

Updated December 01, 2017 18:00:51

The chairman of Britain’s largest commercial television company has warned that internet giants Facebook and Google pose a “clear and present danger” to civil society.

ITV’s Sir Peter Bazalgette told a broadcasting conference in London that large technology companies do not consider the ethical impact of what they do and should face tighter regulation.

“We are being influenced and in some cases you could say even governed by people who are not in this country,” Sir Peter said.

“Engineers [working at big tech companies] are very fine folk, but they don’t necessarily, unless they take an interest in it, think about the ethics of society.”

Sir Peter accused politicians of failing to appreciate the impacts of large digital companies, dismissing their claim to be platforms rather than publishers as “frankly unsustainable”.

But the ITV chairman stopped short of agreeing with News Corp CEO Robert Thompson’s assessment of companies like Google as the “parasites” of the internet.

“I wouldn’t use that word, I think that’s a rather unpleasant word. I could think of some other unpleasant words for them instead,” he said.

“If you look at what Google does, it does some very good things too and it does some pro-social things.

“But the overall challenge of the internet and the internet giants, of whom there are now four or five, that is a very serious economic, cultural and democratic issue and we haven’t begun to tackle it.”

‘Mass media is at fault’

Sir Peter also identified the increasing shift of advertising revenue to tech companies as a key area needing attention.

This year Google and Facebook are expected to take in half of all digital advertising revenue worldwide and around one fifth of total advertising revenue.

“In some countries, Google has a market share of 80 to 90 per cent in search advertising,” Sir Peter said. “That’s an extraordinary monopoly.”

But Jeff Jarvis, a professor of journalism at the City University of New York, said legacy media companies were themselves to blame for their decline in advertising revenue in recent years.

“We tried to hold on to and preserve and protect our old models, we didn’t innovate. That is our own damned fault,” Professor Jarvis said.

“What Facebook and Google did was offer our customers, our advertisers, a better deal because they no longer treated the public as a mass, all the same to be treated to single messages.”

Professor Jarvis disagrees that technology companies need further regulation, describing the idea as a “techno-panic”.

“It’s a luddite view which says technology is at fault for society’s problems,” he said.

“Mass media is to fault for many of the problems we have in society today [like] cats, Kardashians and Donald Trump.”

“Mass media gives us a business model that leads to these ills. Mass media is at fault.”

Topics: social-media, television, internet-technology, united-kingdom

First posted December 01, 2017 17:31:56

First rule of Boys Club — don’t mention sexual harassment

By Tracey Spicer

Posted December 01, 2017 10:29:12

“I didn’t see a thing. Anyway, what about all of the women who sexually harass men. Are you doing a story on that?”

This is the response from one of the dozens of men who worked for decades with Don Burke.

Our conversations over the past month provided extraordinary insights into the gendered responses to allegations of indecent assault.

Most took the opportunity to unload after decades of bullying.

“He set out to destroy people,” one man said.

“Psychopathic or sociopathic, not sure which,” according to a former manager.

“Well, he hit me once over the head, really hard,” a sound assistant said. “But he was worse with women. He was a monster.”

Many regretted their years of inaction. But not one would go on the record.

“I’ve got a family to feed,” was the common refrain. (To which my reply was, “What about the women who’ve spoken out. Don’t they need to eat, as well?”)

Perhaps the most telling responses came from the camera and sound operators who’d spent decades on the road with the show.

I’ve been wondering whether they were victims or enablers. Or was going along with it all simply a symptom of the Boys Club?

Dr Michael Flood from the Queensland University of Technology says men tend to overestimate other men’s comfort with sexual harassment.

“Men are less likely than women to recognise it as a problem: they define harassment more narrowly than women, see harassing behaviour as ‘normal’ or ‘harmless’ or ‘fun’, are more tolerant of unwanted sexual behaviour, blame victims more, and fail to recognise harassment’s impact on victims,” he writes.

Consequently, they fear how other men would react if they intervened.

In other words, they don’t want to upset the codes of mateship.

Sexual harassment ‘normalised’

Years later, Burke’s long-time camera operator is a broken man. He was teary on the phone this week talking about Bridget Ninness, who reached a settlement with Burke’s production company after claiming she was bullied relentlessly.

Still, he refuses to speak on camera about what he saw.

Interestingly, a longtime colleague of Burke opted for fight instead of flight, offering the quote at the top of this story.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, female harassment of men accounts for only 14 per cent of all cases.

Yet this was his line of defence.

“I’d be interested in covering such stories if you could share them with me,” I replied, after taking a deep breath.

“Er, well, I don’t know any,” he said. “But women can be bullies, too. And, you know, not all men are sexual harassers.”

UTS academic Jenna Price says this reeks of deflection.

“Every time we say ‘not all men, not all women’, we deflect from the seriousness and the prevalence of sexual harassment, which has now been normalised,” she says.

“Whatever your experience, acknowledge the experience of others, particularly those who have been hurt and damaged.”

Men socialised to see women as objects

It’s too simplistic to categorise these men as victims or enablers. They worked in an environment of toxic masculinity, the dog-eat-dog world of commercial television. And they were socialised to see women as objects.

But there are actions they could have taken.

“This means calling out sexist attitudes and behaviours with your mates, colleagues or family,” CEO of Our Watch, Mary Barry, says.

“It may be a little awkward, yes. But if your actions save even one woman from being sexually harassed or assaulted, it’s an uncomfortable minute well spent.”

These are also important messages for our sons.

“We need to teach young men that they don’t need to conform to antiquated models of masculinity,” Dannielle Miller, the founder of Goodfellas, writes.

“What’s interesting is that when we unpack these models (by discussing men and emotion, what defines real strength, how they can be ethical bystanders when they see acts of violence or harassment etc.), they show an obvious sense of relief.”

Perhaps it would also improve their eyesight, as well as their insight.

Since our discussion a month ago, the aforementioned colleague suddenly remembers seeing Burke’s behaviour.

“It really was as bad as they’re saying in the papers,” he’s telling colleagues. “Dunno how I worked in that environment for so long.”

He’s not alone.

Tracey Spicer is a journalist and author.

Topics: sexual-offences, sexuality, work, women, social-media, media, television, australia

Shades of Wag the Dog in fake news trick on Washington Post

By Micheline Maynard

Updated November 30, 2017 11:41:50

Twenty years ago, with a real sex scandal blazing in the White House, Hollywood came up with a dramatic solution to distract attention that seemed just a little far fetched at the time.

A fictional White House adviser and a fictional spin doctor concocted a plan to broadcast a fictional war. Patriotic fever sweeps America. The president’s problems are forgotten. And he wins re-election.

All because of what we would now call fake news.

That was the plot of the 1997 movie, Wag The Dog, starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. It was wildly entertaining, and unsettling to think it might be possible.

But in those days before the web was widespread, and editing video was a cumbersome task, it was easy to ask, “Who would ever believe it?”

Fast-forward two decades and a similar scenario has just played out in Washington, amid the all too real sexual harassment scandals that are sweeping the United States.

Project Veritas, an organisation that targets the mainstream media and left-leaning groups, set up a clunky undercover effort to trick The Washington Post into reporting fake news.

In this case, the group allegedly hired a woman to claim that she had become pregnant as a teenager by Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Alabama who has been accused of sexual harassment.

During two weeks of interviews, the woman insisted to the Post that she had a sexual relationship with Moore that led to an abortion when she was 15.

As the Post recounted, she also tried to get the reporters investigating her story to share opinions about what might happen to Mr Moore’s candidacy if she went public with her story.

To the good fortune of its readers, the Post reporters paid attention to an old adage in American journalism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

They shadowed the woman and spotted her walking into Project Veritas’ New York offices.

The Post then confronted James O’Keefe, founder of the project, who declined to answer questions about the alleged sting.

To quote another old saying in journalism, the whole situation simply didn’t pass the smell test.

But, the lengths to which Project Veritas went to try to trick The Washington Post show that there’s a war going on out there — not a fabricated one, as in Wag the Dog, but a real one to try to sully journalists’ reputations.

Media layoffs create opening for fake news

The timing actually couldn’t be worse. There have been vast job reductions and closings across the journalist landscape, with more layoffs announced just this week at sports network ESPN and The Detroit News, one of the city’s two papers.

That’s created an opening for groups like Project Veritas. As veteran journalists leave or are fired, some are being replaced by younger journalists trained in a completely different era than their elders, who wore scepticism the way previous generations donned fedoras.

Many of these digital natives are judged on output and speed, on being first to post something to the web, on the “buzziness” of their stories and how many readers share them on Facebook or tweet them to their followers.

While there are many talented newer reporters who are careful at their craft, some who are under the pressure to perform might conceivably had believed the woman from Project Veritas, and published or broadcast her account without digging deeper.

Across journalism, there was a tendency this week to congratulate the Post on its caution. But I am also petrified that many journalists are just sitting ducks, and that we are this close to a mishap.

Trump attacks NYT, uses Fox as propaganda arm

President Donald Trump is feeding into this with his constant accusations of “fake news”.

He has attacked numerous news organisations, from CNN to NBC and The New York Times, while praising Fox News, seemingly his propaganda arm.

His press secretaries have freely given false information at their regular news briefings, creating work for fact checkers and headaches for everyone else.

It’s exhausting, and it’s also the way that things simply are now. Journalists can’t just complain that someone like Project Veritas is out to trick us. We have to be extra vigilant about the way we do our jobs — and make sure that the public is on our side.

Wesley Lowry, a reporter at the Post, summed it up on Twitter, suggesting the problem partly lay with media professionals’ misguided assumptions about how audiences viewed them.

Reporters often think that readers and viewers know more than they do about us.

Journalists have been depicted on screen in a variety of ways, most recently in the Academy Award winning film Spotlight.

It painted a special reports team from The Boston Globe as dogged pursuers of justice, willing to spend months painstakingly interviewing victims of sexual assault in order to paint the bigger picture about the Catholic Church that their editor, Martin Baron, insisted they unearth.

When I saw that movie, I burst into tears recognising the many times I had followed leads that became dead ends, only to make one more call and do one more interview.

The real Baron, now the editor of the Post, smiled at me kindly when I babbled my admiration for the work his journalists had done.

But the next movie may not depict us in such a favourable light.

Project Veritas easily could learn from its mistakes with the Post this time, and attempt a more-sophisticated sting of someone else next time.

The sexual harassment scandals that we’ve been investigating could become our own scandals, if the public loses faith in us, and we fail to be as careful as the Post reporters and those at the Globe.

It means checking out every wisp of information, even if we think it seems believable.

Hopefully, our mothers will understand.

Micheline Maynard has worked as a journalist at The New York Times, NPR and Forbes, among other major American media outlets.

Topics: media, social-media, print-media, donald-trump, film-movies, united-states

First posted November 30, 2017 10:33:36

How to respond if a friend is accused of sexual misconduct

By Micheline Maynard

Updated November 20, 2017 16:46:49

Yet another prominent person that I’ve met has been accused of sexual misconduct. As more revelations come out, it’s raising some uncomfortable questions of etiquette.

Recently, I wrote on Medium of my fury at the harassment allegedly endured by women who came in contact with Michael Oreskes, the former vice president of news at NPR. The incidents took place there and at the New York Times.

This time, it was the comedian and politician Al Franken, on whose radio show I appeared before he was elected to the US Senate.

Reactions vary

As stories continue to come out, the reactions vary.

Some, like actress and author Lena Dunham, have come flat out in support of their accused pals. Dunham’s original defence of writer/producer Murray Miller was based on her confidence that the accusation is one of three percent a year that are erroneous, and because Miller “filled my world with love.”

Some, like commentator Howard Fineman, took the “he’s a great guy and would never” approach about Franken, although Fineman was not on the USO trip where Franken’s assault on a sleeping television newswoman took place.

Others, like Olympian Gabby Douglas, seemed to be blaming the victim, in this case, her teammate Aly Raisman. After saying it is women’s responsibility to “dress modestly and be classy” since “dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd,” Douglas apologised.

The response that all three of them received shows that this is an extremely delicate subject. If you are too supportive of your friend, or too critical of someone who was harmed, it’s going to come off as an insult to the accuser, and beyond that, to all women.

In fact, on Saturday night, Dunham issued a revised statement including an apology “to any women who have been disappointed.”

Some dos and don’ts may be in order. (Nothing here is meant to be snide or snarky.)

Dos and don’ts

DO reach out to your friend privately, as soon as you wish. If you really feel they’re being unjustly accused, tell them first, before going on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Anyone who’s been in trouble knows that nasty feeling of seeing people they thought were their friends vanish into thin air, so reaching out most likely will be appreciated.

DON’T immediately pronounce your friend to be completely innocent and the accuser to be lying, because there is no way you can be absolutely sure.

As we’ve seen, a pattern has emerged in this morass. The initial “I don’t remember” or “I don’t remember it that way” comment has often been followed by a longer and more contrite, “I acted like an idiot” admission.

It’s very possible that your friend will confess to something, and then you have to walk back your defence, too.

DO think about whether you’ve actually known it all these years, and didn’t want to admit it.

Did you ever speak phrases such as, “Well, that’s how he is” or “I’m not sure why he keeps getting away with it” or “I feel so sorry for his wife/significant other” or “I wouldn’t be alone in a room with him”? If so, you knew.

DON’T automatically shame the accuser, because you may see more accusers come forward, and then you will just have to shame all of them to be consistent.

Some of those accusers might be people you’ve worked with and/or admire. Are you really that devoted to your friend that you want to put everyone who accuses them in the same toxic barrel?

DO tell your friend that you hope he gets help and when he gets back from getting help, you’ll be there for him.

DON’T say this unless you actually mean it. You’ll have to explain to your spouse, friends, and family why you’re still friends with him. Some of them might not understand.

DO examine your own behaviour. Have you acted in the same way as your friend? Has this situation caused you to wonder if there’s someone out there who could come forward with a story about you? If so, make a list and start apologizing. If you’re lucky, they won’t go public.

DON’T pretend that if nobody talks about it, this will all just go away. That’s tempting, because this is uncomfortable and is causing people to pick sides. It has really made women wonder whether, to borrow a phrase from comedian Adam Felber, “all men are pigs.”

DO be patient about the flood of stories that are likely to continue to come out. Read them. Notice the patterns.

DON’T suddenly declare yourself to be a feminist, if you’ve never given support for women much thought before.

Although women want allies, they also want authentic ones. If you’ve been a shoulder squeezer who always stood a hair too close, and you suddenly put on a pussy hat, you won’t have much credibility in the office kitchen.

Above all, DO listen to the women in your life. Learn. And understand that while you might want to support your friend in the face of everything, he may not deserve it.

Micheline Maynard is a journalist and author. This piece first appeared on Medium.

Topics: sexual-offences, arts-and-entertainment, social-media, community-and-society, united-states

First posted November 20, 2017 16:28:37