#3 in a series of background briefs

The logic of TCQ
Underlying assumptions and principles

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  • A bit like a mathematical proof, TCQ is built on a set of widely accepted assumptions (listed below) that support a logical conclusion (that is, TCQ, the Trust Checklist, and the “Guaranteed TCQ” label).

    Note that no attempt is made here to assemble the assumptions in a progressive order (“If A then B; if B then C”) the way mathematical proofs are typically constructed.

    But during the development of TCQ, mathematician Andrew Wiles’ process of solving Fermat’s Theorem was a model for building a case and establishing a conclusion.

  • 1. The future of photography

  • 1A. Photography will continue to matter, hugely, around the world


    • Over the past couple of decades photography has become the world’s most universal language (see #202-204).

    • Photography is bigger than ever and continues to grow (more photographs are taken every year than the previous year, and that trend shows no sign of slowing).

  • 1B. It will continue to become easier to doctor photographs without viewers’ knowledge


    This has been a reality since the invention of photography and has only accelerated in the digital age.

    Smartphone photographers can now perform with the swipe of a finger undetectable manipulations that 20th-century masters of the darkroom couldn’t perform even in several days.

  • 1C. The public will trust photographs less in the future than they have in the past


    Rare is the person who would argue that people will trust photographs more in the age of ever-more-undetectable photo manipulation (see #1B above).

    Assumption #1C is the simplest way to explain why there will be a place for “a universal standard” like TCQ in the future when there was no need for it in the past.

  • 1D. It will always be true that people trust some photographs more than others


    • Most people will always trust their own photos more than they will trust, for example, preposterous photos posted anonymously on the Internet

    • Once it is established that “viewers trust some photos more than others” there’s a place for identifying which photos are more likely to be trustworthy (that’s TCQ’s role)

    For more on this, see #212-213.

  • 1E. Viewers will not be able to reliably find out “just by looking” what they want to know about the believability of a photograph


    For viewers, photography isn’t just about “how the photo looks” anymore.

    There is no longer any reliable connection between a photograph’s appearance and its trustworthiness. In the age of digital manipulation, millions of doctored and undoctored photographs look equally believable (see this brief).

    Not one of the 9 characteristics of trusted photographs can be reliably assessed “just by looking,” and it is easy to doctor photographs without detection by viewers (see #209).

  • 1F. Viewers will not be able to expect photographers to tell them when a photograph is doctored


    This approach has been proposed numerous times over the past four decades, but it has proven to be unrealistic.

  • 2. Future needs

  • 2A. A means of identifying trustworthy photographs will benefit the larger culture, as photographs are increasingly used as a form of international communication


    Photography is now our most-universal language (see #202-204) — but the effectiveness of any language is limited if the audience doesn’t know when they can believe the message.

  • 2B. A means of identifying trustworthy photographs will benefit viewers who want to know which impressive photographs they see are undoctored


    (This is true regardless of the subject of the photo: it need not be a “news” photograph for viewers to be curious.)

    FAQ #510 and 511 list three reasons why “viewers want to know”: trustworthiness, difficulty, and meaning.

  • 2C. A means of identifying trustworthy photographs will benefit providers who are minding their reputation


    A photograph’s impact often depends on its credibility: even the most visually compelling photograph loses impact if viewers don’t believe their eyes.

    As spelled out in this brief, the reasoning is simple for tending to credibility:
    1. You see something remarkable
    2. You tell others about what you saw
    3. You want them to believe you.

    #1 and #5 in this brief have more information for content providers; see also the guide to publishing TCQ photographs.

  • 3. Future responses

  • 3A. The most-widely trusted photographs will continue to share the same characteristics


    Any standard that aims to optimize trustworthiness (like TCQ does) will likely incorporate all 9 characteristics of the most-trusted photographs in the world.

    (It is rare to find news photographs in trusted news settings that do not fully meet all 9 qualifications as spelled out in the Trust Checklist.)

    A labeling standard that leaves out even one of the 9 characteristics will open the door for creating photographs that meet that labeling standard but would be considered less trustworthy by viewers.

  • 3B. Photography will always be tied to “light”


    There already are numerous visual-imaging technologies that are not based on visible light and are known by different names, but most definitions of photography will always be somehow “light”-related (the word “photo” is from the Greek word for “light”).

    That’s why any photo-manipulation discussion is likely to acknowledge the role of light — and why TCQ uses the behavior of “light” to draw the line on photo manipulation.

  • 3C. Trusted providers will continue to share similar standards


    While there are no specific “industry standard” specifications for things like saturation or sharpening, the degree of variation regarding such actions between respected content providers is generally fairly small.

    Through rinairs TCQ will always incorporate the standards of the most-trusted providers, whoever they are at any given time.

  • 3D. Billions of smartphones will continue to reflect a consensus about “doctoring” photographs


    The largest smartphone manufacturers will not program as defaults any actions (in a device’s away-facing camera) that would be regarded as “doctoring” by users who just want to “take a photo to show what something looks like.”

    How TCQ transfers this into the list of Allowable Changes