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How Non-captioned Images in Media is Promoting Misinformation

Images, like other multimedia content, are a major part of media reports, and unlike text, images help tell a message quickly, aiding comprehension and attracting several audiences.

Images promoting misinformation
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Images, like other multimedia content, are a major part of media reports, and unlike text, images help tell a message quickly, aiding comprehension and attracting several audiences.

“Journalists need to take this into account very consciously: people might decide not to read an article, or tune out the radio, but they won’t be able to unsee images that are published – be it in the newspapers, websites, or social media,” said  Bonn Institute – showing the powerful nature of images in media.

However, it has been a noticeable practice by media organizations to use images without proper captions, which poses a barrier to the fight against misinformation.

“ Non-captioned images present a near-reality explanation of a concept or texts and can be used by fake news purveyors to trigger emotions of online users or propagate conspiracy theories that support their malicious intents,” emphasized Kehinde Opeyemi, editor at Factcheckhub

Why Should The Media Caption Images?

Images can be as misleading as it is informative, explained Lois Ugbede, an assistant editor at Dubawa.

“It is important to properly caption images, know the source of your image, and give proper credit where and when you do not take the image. It is also important that journalists frequently build their gallery to avoid using and re-using old unrelated images because they lack a more befitting one,” she said.

“Another option is creating your images using AI tools although there is a need for caution in this area.”

Ugbede added that captions should be simple and specific.

Image captioning is crucial in media reports as it significantly enhances news coverage’s effectiveness and credibility and boosts reader engagement with the content, added Lanre Olagunju, the Factcheck editor at TheCable.

Kehinde mentioned that “ a non-captioned image has the potential of being misconstrued, as it does not paint the perfect picture of or represent a subject.”. He further emphasized its importance.

Non-captioned Images Promoting Misinformation

Several media platforms in Nigeria have been observed to use images without proper captions, some of which are old and reused to fit multiple publications. These practices indirectly promote misinformation.

For example, Daily Post, a Nigerian National Newspaper, in its report published in February, 2024, used an image to depict violence in the Bayelsa communal clash. This image, which was not captioned, has also been used to describe violence on several Nigerian and international platforms.

Also, in the just concluded Ondo state APC primary election 2024, a certain image was used in a report by Politics Nigeria, to portray violence that broke out at Ward 1, Stella Maris College, Okitipupa, a voting area in the state.

Findings revealed that this image, not captioned in this publication, has been used multiple times and dates back to 2022.

Media platforms have also captioned images wrongly. The National, a media organization that covers events in the Middle East, wrongly captioned an image that was used to depict kidnappings in Nigeria. This media platform in the report used the word ‘soldier’ to describe a picture of a Nigerian Police officer standing near previously kidnapped girls from northern Nigeria.

How Can Images Be Properly Captioned

Sourcing new pictures for every media post can be challenging, however, if not done properly, it can mislead readers, said Olagunju, adding that precise captioning can reduce this risk.

“Understandably, sourcing new pictures for every post can be challenging, leading to the reuse of images at times. While this practice can potentially mislead uninformed readers, precise captioning can mitigate this risk entirely,” he explained.

“ It’s acceptable to clarify under the image the specific event it depicts or explicitly state if the image is for illustrative purposes only. This approach eliminates the possibility of misinformation stemming from misused featured images.” Olagunju noted.

Kehinde further emphasized that captions should be straight to the point and briefly explain the context of the event in the image.

“The source of the image, including the photographer and perhaps the medium should be given appropriate credit. Most creative managers in well-established media houses know these rules; other digital media publishers should imbibe them too”, he said.

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