Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged social media verification

Any one paying attention to journalism right now knows that misinformation, disinformation and “fake news” are becoming a more significant part of our cultural landscape. Luckily, we have some very skilled people working to deal with these issue.

Eliot Higgins

In particular, Eliot Higgins and the organisation he founded – Bellingcat – have been doing stellar work around user content from conflict zones, and debunking propaganda. They’re reliant on funding donations – so if you’re serious about fact-checking and journalism, please consider bunging a few quid their way as part of their latest Kickstarter:

There are rewards on offer, including mugs, t-shirts and exclusive posters by the artist Molly Crabapple:

Molly Crabapple art

You can back them on Kickstarter – and if you want to know more, one of my Interactive Journalism MA students, Ella Wilks-Harper, interviewed Eliot Higgins for Interhacktives.

The lovely, lovely First Draft Coalition has been doing some excellent work in unpicking the roots of the real “Fake News”, before that phrase got co-opted. In particular, research director Claire Wardle has expended on work by Elliot Higgins to define the reasons why people create misinformation and disinformation, taking his “4 Ps” up to “8 Ps”:

  • Poor Journalism
  • Parody
  • to Provoke or ‘Punk’
  • Passion
  • Partisanship
  • Profit
  • Political Influence or Power
  • Propaganda.

Our consistent vulnerability

Misinformation and Disinformation

Why is this so important? Readers of this blog are surely intelligent, critical thinking people of the world, not prone to being influenced. Well, you more be more vulnerable than you think, as Claire points out:

When messaging is coordinated and consistent, it easily fools our brains, already exhausted and increasingly reliant on heuristics (simple psychological shortcuts) due to the overwhelming amount of information flashing before our eyes every day. When we see multiple messages about the same topic, our brains use that as a short-cut to credibility. It must be true we say — I’ve seen that same claim several times today.

Any student who has had the misfortune to come in my orbit for the last couple of years has had verification as a critical skill drummed into them, and journalists are a key part of that. But we need a more sceptical, more critically thinking populace, too:

We all play a crucial part in this ecosystem. Every time we passively accept information without double-checking, or share a post, image or video before we’ve verified it, we’re adding to the noise and confusion. The ecosystem is now so polluted, we have to take responsibility for independently checking what we see online.

And the work First Draft are doing to understand and unpick the ecosystem are a useful weapon in this fight.

Buzzfeed has a social media verification team:

BuzzFeed Canada editor and First Draft Coalition member Craig Silverman will be leading the charge from Toronto, “bringing his deep expertise at debunking hoaxes to our reporting arsenal,” said Scott Lamb, BuzzFeed’s head of international growth, “and acting as a resource for all BuzzFeed editions, as well as a watchdog on behalf of our readers worldwide.”

That’s a set of skills that every newsroom should have – but which large newsrooms should also support with a dedicated team. The big challenge, of course, is getting the debunking and correction of false material on social media out to the audience as quickly as possible:

Sensational or salacious lies have always been more interesting than the stone dry truth, but two recent studies put the reality of online rumours into stark relief. Researchers at the University of Warwick and the University of Indiana found it takes more than 12 hours for a false claim to be debunked online, on average, giving it an almost insurmountable headstart.

If the Buzzfeed team can tighten that up, that would be a useful public service.

Want to know why social media verification skills are so important? Well, take a look at this tweet, which has been the basis for dozens of stories in the media this morning:

Crazy, huh?

But what happens if you start looking into the few facts you have?

Why would someone suddenly set their LinkedIn profile private, while simultaneously soliciting newspapers to cover a story from their Twitter account?

And:

Within 40 miles of Westminster, there is only one ad on the entire site from a private landlord. That ad is the one in question. In other words, across the whole of London, there is a single private landlord ad on the site, and that ad happens to be the one that’s gone viral.

Nothing’s certain, but right now it looks like the the BBC, Sky, and many others have fallen for a viral marketing campaign. The Independent has pulled its story, and The Telegraph is acknowedging that there’s no proof to it.

Caveat aggregator

“Twitter is our competition, we have faced up to that reality,” said Matt McAllester, Europe editor at Time.

That’s a controversial start to a nice piece from Abigail at journalism.co.uk, from a Web Summit panel on journalism and social media:

Time reporters such as Moscow correspondent Simon Shuster use Twitter to discover stories that are breaking nearby and head straight there while also “triangulating other tweets” to check if the area is at risk.

“[Shuster] uses Twitter a lot to make sure that it’s safe to go down a certain road and go down a certain place and talk to certain people,” explained McAllester.

He added that Twitter has replaced the role of the mobile phone, once so essential in foreign reporting, allowing more immediate communication with a wider number of people.

Some interesting stuff on long form video from Vice, and the uses of Google+ (shock, horror) from Storyful.

Interesting interview with Anthony De Rosa:

Through live blogging, De Rosa says he began to learn the value of information verification. Social media poses an increasingly large problem in the spreading of false or inaccurate information. Especially in times of breaking news, events unfold extremely quickly. There are many people feeding conflicting information into networks through their phones. Users blindly share information without considering the root of the source, and it spreads like wildfire.

There’s a marked difference between doing journalism with new tools, and using new tools to rethink journalism. De Rosa is making a pretty good fist of the latter right now.

Fascinating account from Storyful about their social media verification work around the downing of flight MH17:

In the aftermath of the attack, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal affairs released the video below, described as showing a ‘Buk’ anti-aircraft missile system being transported in eastern Ukraine, en route to the Russian border. The footage is not the original, however we believe that the first instance of this footage was removed by the uploader and the version below is the earliest we can find. Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, made early claims that the video was filmed in the Ukrainian town of Krasnodon near the Russian border, however collaborative geo-location was able to place the footage in southwestern Luhansk.

This really is one of the new frontiers of serious journalism, and one that’s only growing in importance.

(Which is, of course, why we teach it as part of the Interactive Journalism MA at City…)

Declan Curry

The above photo was circulating Twitter yesterday, and at least two media outlets – Romenesko and FishbowlNY – ran it as an example of a BBC captioner having a bad day.

They found the image and they ran with it. They didn’t contact Declan or the BBC. And today, they’re both apologising.

As it happens, I was at university with Declan – we worked on Imperial College’s student newspaper Felix together. I’d seen the photo before – when he posted it to Facebook, sharing a joke he’d written himself. Yup, the caption was by him – and was the best part of a year old:

click on the comments link to see the discussion

And there we have it. Two media outlets turned their journalistic instincts off when presented with something fun on social media, and made fools of themselves.

You don’t get to stop applying the basic techniques of journalism just because you found something on social media. Verify, check, double-source. Or you’ll be apologising to your readers – or your editor – pretty quickly.