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REVEAL | June 3, 2023

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Interview with Steffen Leidel, Deutsche Welle Academy

Interview with Steffen Leidel, Deutsche Welle Academy
Jochen Spangenberg

How do journalists deal with Social Media content? What are respective challenges and requirements? Which solutions are used by journalists and media folks? As part of our interview series we talked to Steffen Leidel of Deutsche Welle Academy to find out.


Steffen Leidel works for Deutsche Welle Academy in the Division of Knowledge Management and Digital Innovation. He is also editor of the onMedia Blog. The aim of this unit within Deutsche Welle’s training centre is, among others, to be a guide to quality journalism in the digital age. The unit’s role is furthermore to answer some of the questions thrown up by digital transformation. Being also a journalist and a trainer of digital journalism, Steffen is thus a very knowledgeable source when it comes to providing insights into digital change processes. He is furthermore up to date with current and emerging trends and tools in the areas of journalistic reporting and digital storytelling.

We are grateful that Steffen found the time to talk to us earlier in 2014 about the impacts of Social Media on journalism, and what challenges there are when it comes to verifying user-generated content or eyewitness media.

Jochen Spangenberg: Which Social Networks do you use for your work, and what is the frequency of usage?

Steffen Leidel: I use Twitter and Facebook almost daily, YouTube and Google+ several times a week. Others, such as Instagram, Flickr, TumblR, I use several times a month. In addition, I use Storify, feed readers like Feedly and bookmarking services such as Delicious.

J.S.: Do you differentiate between private and professional use?

S.L.: I mostly use social media for professional purposes.

Use of Social Media

J.S.: Can you tell us more about your professional usage of Social Networks.

S.L.: I mainly use Twitter, other Social Networks to a lesser extent. For example, I use Twitter as a kind of news agency that can be personalised, according to my own needs. I also use Social Networks as a contact medium, for example to get in touch with people to arrange interviews; as a way to stay informed about topics that interest me; as a research tool; to cross-check information; and to reach out to experts and people who have something to say about topics I work on. Social networks are an ideal way of finding useful information from others that, otherwise, would be difficult to obtain.

In addition to all this, I use Social Networks to distribute content and as a way to speak to my audiences.

J.S.: Let me get back to what you do with the content of interest you find in Social Networks. What use is it for your work?

S.L.: I curate some of the material (for example with Storify), include it in Blogs I write and archive it (for example with social bookmarking tools). And, as stated beforehand, I often double-check with other sources and, if required, get in touch with the contributor of content items of interest.

J.S.: Whom do you follow?

S.L.: I follow other journalists, media organizations, NGOs, specialists and bloggers who are experts in particular areas, for example people with a geographic focus, meaning individuals who reside in specific world regions.

J.S.: How do you get in touch with your audience?

S.L.: I do so via mentions, ask for opinions on specific topics, get involved via discussion fora, use hashtags or re-tweet, and re-share material.

Verification of Social Media Content

J.S.: What about verification? Do you verify content you find in Social Networks?

S.L.: Generally, I would say I verify content, news especially, if a) they matter to me and b) they come from a source that seems to be not trustworthy or requires further checks, for example because it does not link to established information providers’ websites. I always use classic journalistic fact checking techniques in the process.

J.S.: How do you verify content from Social Networks?

S.L.: I cross-check with established media outlets that I know to be trustworthy, for example news agencies. I furthermore look at the followers somebody has and ask myself questions such as “does that seems plausible, does it give any indication about the validity of the content in question or the person sharing it”, for example by looking at the number and quality of followers somebody has, or trying to find out whether followers seem unreal or bots. Then I examine previous posts of the person sharing an item of interest and ask questions such as “has this person been re-tweeted before”, and so on. I also check whether a person’s feed is being re-tweeted, and by whom.

Depending on the situation, I may contact the person who published something directly. Often, I do this via different and more traditional means, say e-mail or telephone.

And I also perform plausibility checks by investigating questions such as “does the location look like the one it’s supposed to be”.

J.S.: What tools and tactics do you use in the verification process?

S.L.: For image verification, I use Google Image Search, TinEye, Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer and Topsy.

For the verification of contributors I use verified accounts – for example those that are verified by Twitter,, Tweetmap and Topsy.

For the verification of textual information I use Google Translate, Inverse Link Search,, Twitter link search, Topsy and domain tools to check on who owns a particular domain.

Overall, I would say Google provides the most useful tools and solutions for verification and cross-checking.

Challenges and Requirements

J.S.: If you had a wish concerning Social Media verification and dealing with related content, what would that be?

S.L.: To start with, I’d like to have a cross-platform social network search tool that works. Then, a filtering tool that can filter out re-tweets so I can reach the originating source of a news or content item faster would be helpful. And I’d like to have an easy-to-use, efficient and reliable tool for searching Twitter lists.

J.S.: In your opinion, what are the main obstacles and challenges when it comes to the verification of Social Media content?

S.L.: There are numerous challenges. One concerns the issue of archiving material from Social Networks and making it searchable and easy to access at a later stage.

Then, there is the aspect of the weighting of information. By that I mean assisting in deciding what is most valuable for a particular requirement or situation.

Next comes the issue of classifying posts, for example in terms of reliability, content and context.

Another aspect that comes to mind is that, often, it is not transparent why results are ranked or filtered the way they are. I’d like to know what the underlying assumptions or rules are for classifying content in a particular way.

Finally, I’d say it would be great if there were more ways to differentiate.

J.S.: Any other obstacles you can think of?

S.L.: The verification process is often rather time-consuming. Many platforms are not really made for journalistic purposes. Especially, I have not yet come across a platform that is specifically geared towards journalistic needs and meets all or most journalistic requirements.

J.S.: Anything else you would like to add in this context?

S.L.: I find the value of information residing in Social Networks is sometimes overrated. The information journalists need is often found “the classic way”. A big exception is finding eyewitnesses. This has been much improved and facilitated with the rise of Social Networks.

J.S.: What, in your opinion, should be of utmost priority for media organizations dealing with Social Media content?

S.L.: I think these days media organizations, especially those dealing with news, need to have permanently staffed desks or departments that deal with User Generated Content and material residing in Social Networks. People working there need to be qualified and properly trained. Such a desk furthermore needs to be fully integrated into an organization’s strategies, workflows and processes. This of course implies also having a Social Media strategy in place in which UGC plays a part.

J.S.: Steffen, thank you very much for your time and sharing your insights with us.

More interviews about UGC and verification are just a click away:


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