A roadmap to the truth
- Julia Bayer
- On June 10, 2016
Verification of eyewitness media is a laborious process of collecting clues and answers to specific questions in order to find out if the claim is true or fake. Julia Bayer and Ruben Bouwmeester have created a verification checklist that will help you to make informed decisions.
Journalists are like detectives when seeking for the truth. They sniff around, ask a lot of questions and collect information to confirm their suspicion. On social media it’s more or less the same thing but with a different source. Basically journalists are interviewing a content item next to interviewing a source. The verification checklist aims to make sure that you stay focused on the questions you need to ask, stay on the right path and do not get lost in the jungle of misleading information on social media.
It is clear that in order to use eyewitness content from social media in your reporting you have to identify and verify the original content and source. The questions needed in order to do so are also known.
We aim to provide some more structure to this laborious process with our verification checklist and give you an overview what remaining questions you could still research. It doesn´t mean you need to go from top to bottom filling out all the empty fields in the list. You will have your own verification workflow to stick to.
The verification checklist aims to give you some structure and is a way to save and share the verification work that you have made for a specific content item.
Here is how to use the verification checklist
Once you are sure you have the original source and content you can use the checklist to run through your verification process and fill in your findings. Let’s start with checking the content for context, location and date & time.
A good way to start is to find similar news around the claim in the content that you are looking at so you can put it in the right context. Does the content include a geolocation or indications for a location? Please be aware that on each social media platform location indications can be manipulated easily. Here is a guide on how to verify a location.
Then check the date of the publication. Does it corroborate with other sources you found? Note that the timestamp of a tweet is based on the time settings of your computer. And what does the Exif-data of the image tell you?
The second part of the checklist is focused on analyzing the source and its digital footprint. Where else is the source present online and can you find more contact data? Here is a guide on how to verify a source. Once you have found out more about the source and have found ways to get in contact, it is time to challenge the information you have already found: Ask if the source is the actual author/owner of the content and if he/she can provide you with more content of that specific event. Of course you also need to obtain permission from the source to be allowed to use the content. Here is a simple copyright guide. And do not forget to agree on how the source will be credited: real name, user name or anonymous?
With the verification checklist and all the information you have collected in it you have a great overview of the facts that you use to make an informed decision about the verity of the content.
6 reasons why you need a verification checklist in your newsroom:
1. Can you verify this in just a second?
You have probably heard this request before. Well, it’s not done in a second and when you get pressure from the outside you might even make mistakes. Most of the time during your verification process there will be doubts. When you debunk something you are 100% sure it’s a hoax. But finding the truth is challenging. Let’s say you are 75% sure the story is true, supported by the findings in your checklist you can then make an editorial decision.
Verification is all about teamwork. Let´s look at finding eyewitness media about #BrusselsAttack. You have never been in Brussels nor can you speak French. How will you handle such a challenge? Why not start and try to verify as much as you can about a content item and collect it in the checklist. You can then save your work and share it with a colleague who can help you fill the remaining blanks. With the checklist you can combine the expertise of your colleagues; verification tricks, tools, cultural background, the region and language.
3. Verification status
Verification is a process you have to go through and you never know how long it will take. So, sometimes you will have to stop working on a specific item and continue your work sometime later. With the checklist you will never forget what you have already done and where to continue.
4. Breaking News
In a breaking news situation there can be lots of eyewitness media to verify. We all know enough examples where mistakes were made and media published fake content due to time pressure. With the checklist you can make quicker decisions under time pressure and share your work instantly with your colleagues in the news department.
5. Support informed decisions
Do you always remember exactly how you verified specific eyewitness content when your boss or community checks back on that? Even after two weeks? With the checklist you can support all the verification decisions you made, even when a long time has passed.
Also, if you receive new content on a specific event but from a known source you can easily check back to see if they already belong to your trusted network.
6. Copyright & Permission
Are you allowed to use any eyewitness media in your articles and distribute it on a vast variety of channels? The answer is a simple… No! You need to ask permission from the source, detailing where & how you are allowed to publish their content and how they want to be credited. In the checklist you can note everything that you have agreed upon with your source and share this essential information with everybody in your newsroom.
And last but not least, even coming back to your desk after holidays or a longer absence, with the checklist you will always have a little guidance on how to verify eyewitness media.
With this quiz by First Draft News you can test your verification skills now and use our checklist while doing so. We are very interested in what you think of it! Let us know if we missed out on something or how you think we can improve our verification checklist. We will be happy to update it.
About the authors: Julia Bayer and Ruben Bouwmeester work for Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international news broadcaster. Julia Bayer is social media journalist, trainer and manager and works for the DW Social Media News Desk doing research and UGC verification. Ruben Bouwmeester is an innovation manager, product developer and trainer. He specializes in UGC and verification of eyewitness media and is currently working on the research projects Reveal and InVID. Julia and Ruben’s fascination for verifying social media content first brought the two together, and they’ve been researching, developing and teaching together ever since.
Context: With the REVEAL project, one of our aims is to translate the above knowledge into algorithms in order to develop software that supports you in your quest for breaking news – and most of all, with verifying it. You can follow REVEAL’s progress on Twitter.