China is notorious for faking things well, whether it’s a replica of a smartphone, handbag, or entire Austrian Village. But one thing it hasn’t mastered are basic image-editing skills, because lately there have been plenty of embarrassing, poorly Photoshopped images of government officials posted to the Web. So the government is investing in new image-editing research, but instead of teaching people to become better image editors, the government is funding tech projects at major universities that would create new ways of detecting manipulated images, according to the South China Morning Post. You see, China doesn’t care about its people having bad Photoshop skills, it just wants to make sure nobody ever gets to see those images in the first place.
The initiative stems from the fear that altered photos could be used as blackmail against government officials and employees. Images and videos of officials in compromising situations have been making their way onto the Internet, with the government suggesting that many of them were faked (although some were actually found to be real).
“In China, sending a government official a batch of sexually-scandalous photos for extortion has become a thriving business,” the Post writes. “Sometimes the pictures are real, but in most cases the official’s head has been superimposed on to a body that does not belong to him.”
A second reason for the project is to catch poorly manipulated images posted by lower-level government entities themselves (as many of them lack the proper photo-editing skills), so they can be taken down quickly before becoming the butt of jokes.
But the government may ultimately discover that detecting fake images is easier said than done. There are multiple research projects happening simultaneously, but the scientists “have been slightly overwhelmed by the challenges of the mission, which range from the increasing complexity of the technology to the enormous quantity of questionable photos needing to be processed,” the Post writes.