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Hurricane Sandy and verification: 4 key takeaways from Storyful Hangout

Copyright: Image by MTA Long Island Rail Road on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Hurricane Sandy presented a challenge to journalists using social media channels: how can you be sure that the content you are seeing is accurate?

Storyful, an organisation that specialises in finding verifiable news on social media, hosted a Google+ Hangout yesterday on verification during Hurricane Sandy.

The guests were Adam Blenford, the online news editor at BBC News; Liz Heron, social media director at the Wall Street Journal; Aine Kerr, the US politics director at Storyful; Tom Phillips, the international editor at MSN, Craig Silverman, who writes the Regret the Error blog at Poynter; Paul Watson, chief technical officer at Storyful and a group of students from Griffith College Dublin.

Journalism.co.uk was listening in. Here are four main points that came out of the discussion:

1. Users care about the accuracy of the information they receive from news organisations.

Adam Blenford said: “If they don’t think they’re worried about verification per se as a concept, they’re worried about the trustworthiness of the organisations that they’re using to get their news from.”

Liz Heron said every time the Wall Street Journal posts a photo on Facebook – which will have first been verified by the news outlet – users will still question the authenticity of the image, even if taken by a professional photographer.

“There’s such high suspicion now among our readers and viewers that I think it’s really important, especially in a situation like covering Sandy, to be really obvious and clear about the fact that this has been verified. There’s huge suspicion out there about this kind of stuff, even for professional photography,” she said.

2. To get people interested in the verification process, it has to be as compelling as the fake content.

Craig Silverman mentioned The Atlantic, which embedded a “verdict” on images, and Buzzfeed, which put together a quiz on real and fake images, as examples of organisations that had done something a bit different with their verification processes.

“This is content people are really interested in, it’s useful to them but there are also ways to make it fun and interesting. I think that’s actually been very key to helping the real images or at least the verdict on the fake ones spread,” he said.

Tom Phillips agreed, saying there is a “need to make the verification process as compelling in terms of content as the thing it’s verifying, because if we’re not doing that then it’s going to get lost.”

3. Journalists should be wary of broadcasting debunked fake content because there is a risk users may misinterpret it as genuine.

Craig Silverman added: “The risk that is always there, however, [is] that when you actually put that tweet out there, even if you’re noting it as false, there are people who are still going to read it and who then may actually retweet it without that context of saying it’s false”.

4. A few fundamental journalistic principles can help ensure you are not fooled by fake content.

Liz Heron gave the example of using the live video stream of the New York Stock Exchange, which proved that the rumour it was under three feet of water was untrue. She added that often the simplest way to verify something was to contact the original source directly.

Adam Blenford also added that “it appears that the closer and more finely-tuned your Twitter lists and your Twitter stream was towards New York on the night of the storm, the less likely you were to get hoaxed”.

“That’s the old adage if you can get closer to the story, you’re more likely to get it right.”

In other news…

While on the subject of social media sharing, Twitter stated on Sunday (9 December) that Instagram photos would no longer appear integrated on the platform. Tweets will instead only link to an Instagram picture. In a statement published by the BBC, Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom said it was felt that “the best experience is for us to link back to where the content lives”.

Markham Nolan, managing editor at Storyful, told Journalism.co.uk this was an “inconvenience” for journalists specialising in verification.

“It was very easy to click in and out, have a quick glance and do the initial check,” he said.

But he added that he did not think it would “slow down the deeper verification”.

“It just means you have to click out of your Twitter stream every time you want to see an Instagram picture to see if it’s useful or see if it’s something worth verifying,” he added.

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Tool of the week for journalists: Geofeedia, to locate real-time photos, videos and tweets

Tool of the week: Geofeedia

What is it? A tool that allows you to search for a location and find geolocated tweets, photos and videos.

How is it of use to journalists? This tool offers potential for journalists faced with verifying a breaking news story. Search for a postcode, country, school or sporting stadium and you can see geolocated social media content posted on Twitter, Instagram, Picasa, Flickr and YouTube.

Imagine hearing reports of a fire. With Geofeedia you could enter the address and see what images, videos and tweets are being shared on social media.

Hat tip: Poynter, which has reported that Geofeedia came out of private beta earlier this week.

Find out more about verification by reading this Journalism.co.uk guide.

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Tool of the week for journalists – Error Level Analysis, to test if a photo is a hoax

Tool of the week: Error Level Analysis

What is it? A free tool to allow you to test whether or not an image has been digitally manipulated in programmes such as Adobe Photoshop. Paste the URL of a photo and Error Level Analysis will return results in an instant. The tool tests how many times an image has been manipulated and re-saved.

How is it of use to journalists? Journalists frequently have to verify images and work out whether they have been manipulated. It may be to test whether an image from a press release has been altered, or from social media sources using Twitter and Facebook.

Take the case of a journalist’s quest to find the man behind the world’s most expensive everything. Stewart Campbell, the deputy editor of Motor Boat and Yachting, set out to prove that a press release claiming the launch of a £3 billion golden superyacht was a fake. Campbell’s keen eye led him to the original photo, which he could prove had been doctored. Error Level Analysis would have demonstrated the level of digital manipulation, which you can see by clicking here.

The Error Level Analysis site clearly explains how the tool works – and comes with a word of warning about interpreting the results:

It works by resaving an image at a known quality, and comparing that to the original image. As a jpeg image is resaved over and over again, its image quality decreases. When we resave an image and compare it to the original, we can guess just how many times the image has been resaved. If an image has not been manipulated, all parts of the image should have been saved an equal amount of times. If parts of the image are from different source files, they may have been saved a number of different times, and thus they will stand out as a different colour in the ELA test.

It is worth noting that edges and areas red in colour are often depicted as brighter in the ELA tests. This due to the way the photos are saved by various programs. It is not proof that image was manipulated.

If you are unsure how to interpret the results, please do not claim the results of this tool as proof of anything.

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MediatingConflict: Do news orgs need to double-check Twitter?

Following up on a post looking at the Channel 4 News’ use of Twitter (picked up from the Journalism.co.uk ‘Twinterview’ with Krishnan Guru-Murthy) Daniel Bennett looks at at the BBC’s policy:

“First, I said I’d be surprised if any of the BBC’s Twitter feeds are checked either. So I was surprised when I discovered that the BBC’s Global News feed does actually pass through an editorial process whereby someone double-checks a tweet before it is published.”

Bennett uses an earlier comment from Charlie Beckett about verification in the process of reporting television news, and then asks, “What do journalists double-check and why? What doesn’t get checked and why? Does the checking process make any sense?”

Full post at this link…

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