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.
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 altered image appeared to be a composite of at least two photos, as the lower part looks to have been added in post-production.
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.”
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.
Evidence from digital image forensics
Error Level Analysis
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.