The endless stream of information and content provided by social media is the worlds’s greatest gift to a reporter or researcher and also his or her worst nightmare. As helpful and empowering as crowdsourcing this kind of newsgathering or research can be, if your job is to corroborate that information it can present a minefield. How to verify the overwhelming flow of information, particularly in a breaking news, high volume context such as violence during massive demonstrations or in a conflict zone? We’ve all seen (and perhaps disparaged) people who have shared images from one conflict zone incorrectly labeled as another, whether by honest mistake or as part of a concerted propaganda campaign. But it’s all too easy to be duped by such material, particularly if shared widely in a high pressure, deadline-looming situation.
A number of people and organizations have sought to tackle this problem by creating various kinds of verification tools. A recent one is NewsCheck, a Chrome extension launched by First Draft, a coalition of organizations and places like the Google News Lab working on tools to improve skills and standards in online reporting.
The extension is a web-friendly version of a previously published guide to verification for photos and videos and essentially works by presenting the user with a checklist of considerations to run through: Are you looking at the original version? Do you know who captured the image? Do you know where the image was captured? Do you know when the image was captured? The app scores the user based on the answers and these results can be published alongside the embedded image on the intended website so that other users can see for themselves to what extent it has been possible to authenticate the information. This isn’t a perfect fix obviously and I would love to see this tool expanded to automatically feed into to some of the best and most vetted online authentication tools available, as sometimes the number of tools can be as overwhelming as the amount of content and further curation is always helpful. But it’s a nice step to attempt to systematize basic verification into workflows for anyone sharing this kind of content and to increase transparency on these efforts to readers/viewers.