False: This photo is altered. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen did not kneel before US senators

The image was manipulated to add Tsai Ing-wen’s lower legs. A video from the same scene shows her talking to the US senators while standing.

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An image showing Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen kneeling before three U.S. senators was posted on Twitter on June 7. It gained more than 200 likes and has been retweeted over 20 times. The same image can also be found in other tweets (here and here).

The post insinuated that Tsai demonstrably exhibited subservience toward the U.S. but the image was manipulated.

Image search led to this photo from the Associated Press that credits the Taiwan Presidential Office.

Tsai’s photo from the Associated Press.

According to its caption, the original photo was released by the Taiwan Presidential Office and shows Tsai meeting U.S. senators Tammy Duckworth, Dan Sullivan and Chris Coons on June 6.

The three senators went there to say the U.S. will donate 750,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan.

The official flickr account of the Presidential Office, in fact, has uploaded the photo as well.

The photo available on flickr retains the EXIF data, indicating this image is the original.

The altered image appeared to be a composite of at least two photos, as the lower part looks to have been added in post-production.

The red carpet was digitally extended (area beneath the yellow line). Two nameplates were blurred (in red circles). The portable lectern in the original photo was given legs (in blue circle) that overlap with the real pole stand (in green circles). The legs with bended knees were added to Tsai’s body (in yellow circle).

Annie Lab identified a matching photo of the legs in a news photo taken in 2017 in South Korea when then the secretary-general of the National Assembly, Woo Yun-geun, kneeled to pay respect to the cleaners.

It can be found on Baidu images with a keyword search “跪拜,” in English, “to kneel and worship.”

Woo’s legs and shoes were cropped out and replaced Tsai’s in the manipulated image.

The same photo has been used in an article from the news website of Maeil Broadcasting Network, a Korean cable TV network.

Annie Lab has reconstructed how the composite of Woo’s legs and Tsai’s original photo was made.

The base of the portable lectern in the manipulated image seems to be added from another photo.

Annie Lab noticed the structure of the legs is different from the one Tsai used during the event.

The actual base has a different shape and was spread much wider as shown in the video (2:50) posted by Taiwan Presidential Office.

It is also worth noting in the 4-minute video Tsai was standing all the time when giving her speech.

Differences between the portable lectern legs shown in the video (2:50) from the Presidential Office (left) and the manipulated image (right).

Evidence from digital image forensics

Annie Lab also analyzed the image using a photo forensic tool and consulted researcher Neal Krawetz from Hacker Factor Solutions, the developer of the tool FotoForensics.

Error Level Analysis

Before Image After Image
A juxtaposition showing before-and-after Error Level Analysis of the manipulated image.

 

Edges of the lectern’s base appeared brighter than the rest of the image. In the original photo, the brightness of all edges, including the pole near the bottom, is uniform. The results indicate the base part was not in the original photo but was added.

“For an edit to be retained after being processed by Twitter, it needs to be an extreme edit,” wrote Krawetz in an email to Annie Lab.

“With this picture, there is an extreme edit: the legs of the tripod stand out under ELA. The ELA result for the tripod should all be at the same quality level, but in this case, it is not.”

He also added: “… the bottom 20% of the image (red carpet and woman’s legs) are at a slightly different quality. ELA shows a horizontal compression line (dark line) that runs the width of the picture, passing just above the woman’s knees. The entire bottom of the picture was post-processed differently.”

“ELA identifies the alteration at the bottom of the picture and the addition of the tripod legs,” Krawetz concluded.

Double Quantization

Before Image After Image
A juxtaposition showing before-and-after Double Quantization of the manipulated image.

 

This tool indicated that the part containing the base of the lectern could be a spliced portion of another image with a different quality that has been inserted into another with a lower quality.

Ghost

Before Image After Image
A juxtaposition showing before-and-after Ghosts algorithm of the manipulated image.

 

The analysis of “ghost” also shows potential tampering. The lectern base shows a different quality from the rest of the photo, implying that a splice of another image could have been added there.

A thread on Twitter also indicates the image was intentionally created.

A tweet credited the image to another user with the handle @n6dnb. This user @n6dnb first posted the lower half of this image in response to another tweet containing the original photo that shows Tsai greeting the U.S. senators standing up.

The text in the comment says jokingly, when translated in English, the lower half of the picture fell on the floor so the user “picked it up”.

The manipulated part of the image posted by Twitter user @n6dnb.

Considering the joking nature of the post, the image could have been made as a meme, but many seem to have mistaken it as a real news photo and shared it, including China-based Taiwanese actor Huang On.

Taiwan faced surging COVID-19 cases in May. Although the government has ordered 20 million doses of vaccine, by early June only 870,000 doses were available in a population of 24 million.

China has offered Chinese-made vaccines, but Taiwan banned their import due to “safety concerns” while the U.S. and Japan donated a total of 2 million doses to Taiwan in early June.

Correction on June 22, 2021: The earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the South Korean government official bowing in the photo as Chung Sye-kyun, speaker of the National Assembly. The official in the photo is Woo Yun-geun, then secretary-general of the National Assembly.

Updated on June 25, 2021: Analysis and comments from Neal Krawetz were added.