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

Posts tagged verification

Liveblogged notes from the “Fake News” event at City University, co-organised by The Media Society and the Student Publication Association. Prone to error, inaccuracy, horrible typos and screaming crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be improved over the next 48 hours.

Jonathan Hewett, our chair, isn’t keen on the phrase “fake news”. What are we actually talking about? Intentionally produced misinformation, that’s designed to be propagated.

Megan Lucero and Jonathan Hewett discussing fake news

Alastair Reid, ex-First Draft News, now independent digital journalist

First Draft was initially set up to deal with user generated content from breaking news events – and the verification of it. But over the last 18 months the rapid growth of misinformation and disinformation has shifted that focus.

Megan Lucero, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

That phrase is not one she’ll be using. It’s being to delegitimise the press, and so we shouldn’t use it. Yes, a small sliver of it is bad journalism, but there’s far more misinformation, propaganda and so on. There’s a glut of information – we need more journalists to sift through it.

James Ball, special correspondent, Buzzfeed

He’s writing a book on bullshit and “fake news”. The web is full of hoax sites full of deceptive news. It’s the pantomime villain behind this era of bullshit. You can make a distinction between fake news and hyperpartisan news, or accurate stories spun out of all proportion. Lots of people on the centre left are sharing stories about “Trump’s secret plan”, the same sort of conspiracy theory thinking that we criticise the far right for. But this isn’t going to be solved by Google withdrawing ads, or Facebook tagging content.

How did we get here?

AR: Social media has a huge role in that. Anyone can publish anything they want to. The barriers to reaching thousands or millions of people have collapsed. Five years ago everyone was hailing the Arab Spring as a wonderful example of social media use. But that freedom has now been weaponised by those with an agenda. 15 years ago blogging was being talked about in the same way.

ML: It’s exploited a very beautiful part of humanity: trust and integrity. People trust what they read. Your world view was the paper you subscribed to. We have to change that. We need to critically assess what we read online. (more…)

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.

Remember when I was amused by Twitter deciding that I’m not a journalist or in the media? Well, now I’m profoundly glad. Why? Well, this little Tweet from a WikiLeaks-affiliated group went out on Friday:

WikiLeaks Doxxing

Of course, many, many screenshots had been saved before it got pulled down:

WikiLeaks itself tried to distance itself from the tweet – rather unconvincingly:

And even the original account tried to walk it back:

That’s a rather disingenuous reply, because the original tweet specified “family/job/financial/housing relationships” (emphasis mine). To track housing relationships, you need to track addresses. And for an organisation as committed to releasing information as WikiLeaks and its supporters have become – that inevitable raises the spectre of doxing – the politically-motivated release of personal information about people.

Inevitably many of my journalist friends on Facebook – the verified ones working on mainstream national publications that is – were nervous about this, mainly because of the mention of family. Most mainstream journalist accept that there is an element of risk in their work – but bringing families into it is frankly sinister.

Here’s a thought: has the little “verified” tick, originally intended to increase trust in Twitter, by making it harder for people to be fooled by fake and imposter accounts, actually proving counter-productive? It makes a really handy target marker for those perceived as “important” – and in these populist times, that makes them targets…

I have discovered – much to my surprise – that I am not a journalist.

This comes as something of a shock, as that’s exactly what I’ve though of myself as for a quarter of a century now. From the latter days of my student life, working on student magazines, through to my recent career, helping national – and international – newspapers do better digital publishing, journalism is at the very heart of my working life.

Cub editor Adam Tinworth circa 1993

Portrait of the author as a young student magazine editor.

But I am not a journalist. So says Twitter and Facebook. And, as they are now the arbitrators of who is a journalist and who isn’t – I cannot be a journalist.

Twitter says: you’re not a journalist, Tinworth

Twitter declared its verdict first. I popped off a speculative application, once it opened up verification to all comers. The criteria are pretty clear:

We approve account types maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.

Well, I’m clearly in both journalism and media, so an easy accept, right?

Wrong:

Twitter verified denied

I am not a journalist. Or in media. Twitter says so.

Now, I’m not that bothered on a personal level – sure, it would have been handy to show my students, many of whom go on to be verified users very quickly, some of the tools that verified status gives you access to. But I can appreciate that I’m an edge case, because I train journalists more than I produce journalism right now.

But when I posted about my rejection on Facebook, many of my journalism friends reported the same experience. It became very clear that Twitter only counts those on national newspapers as journalists. In consumer or business press? Forget it. You are not a real journalist. Twitter says so.

Look at that description above:

We approve account types maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.

(Emphasis mine.) There’s no qualification there of “national” or “newspaper” journalism. Just “journalism” and “media”. Twitter has set itself up and an arbiter of who counts as a journalist – and who doesn’t – and most of us don’t count.

Are journalists journalists? Ask a microblogger.

Those with long memories might remember the seemingly endless debates a decade ago about whether bloggers were journalists. There’s not small irony in the fact, that Twitter, a direct descendent of blogging (it was described as “microblogging” in its early days) has now set itself up as an arbiter of who is a journalist and who isn’t. And it’s chosen a very, very tight definition of that. I suspect that has been done to make the verification process easier – and certainly much journalism verification is done directly between social media editors and their liaisons at Twitter – but once they opened up verification, that needed to be rethought. And it wasn’t.

Would any other social networks do something similar? Like, say, Facebook?

A couple of weeks ago, the spawn of Zuckerberg announced that it was helpfully going to educate journalists. (But it’s not a media company, remember)

The social network has created an learning environment, to help journalists use Facebook better. Handy. That’s part of what I do for a living, but having tools like that to support our work. Great.

As part of this journalists are invited to join the News, Media & Publishing group on Facebook. So, I applied:

Applied to Facebook

And that’s how the group looked for a few days. I waited patiently – confident of inclusion, as I could see a friend who works for Twitter and another who runs a technology company were members, surely both more marginal than my case. Hell, there’s other lecturers in there, so I’m at least as qualified as them. Oh, foolish me.

Facebook: denied

And, after a few days, that Pending button turned into:

Denied

Denied. And silently denied, at that.

Yes, Facebook, also now apparently an arbiter of who is a journalist and who isn’t, has declared that I am not a journalist, either. Nor am I in media. Nor publishing, apparently.

So, we might never have solved the question of whether bloggers are journalists. But apparently, I’ve been deluded for the past 25 years that I am a journalist. I’m not. I’m just a blogger, because Facebook and Twitter tell me so.

The power of social networks to define journalism

Given how much power Twitter and, especially, Facebook, have in driving traffic to our sites and mediating our relationships with our readers – are we comfortable with this? Are we happy for them to give a subset of journalists special privileges over others? Because that’s the situation right now. If you’re not a mainstream journalists, working on a know large news site, forget it. Freelancer? Go away. Trade press? You and your professional readers don’t count. Consumer press? No important. That’s just interest not news.

Once upon a time, in the UK at least, the NUJ was pretty much the arbiter of who was a journalist and who wasn’t. I’ve had my issues with the NUJ in the past, but at least they took a wide and thoughtful view on who was entitled to a press card. As the “verfified” tick becomes an de facto mark of journalistic status, we’re now being assessed by people who active claim not to be media companies – and yet who control our traffic and our access to readers.

And the implications of that should give us pause.

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.

Three speakers at news:rewired talking about use of Reddit in journalism, moderated by Mark Frankel, assistant editor, social news, BBC

James Cook, Daily Dot

James cookThere’s two main tasks:

  • Finding new stories
  • Sharing stories

How do you get started? Sign up. That allows you to start following what you’re really interested in. Reddit is made of communities of interests: subreddits.

How do you do Reddit wrong? Don’t identify yourself. Reddit is great at identifying who you are – and if you’re pretending to be someone else, you’ll be busted. Be honest about who you are. Be honest and you’ll get good results

How about promoting your story? Look for who has been sharing your stories. Chances are someone has already done it. If it’s there, leave a comment saying you’re the author and asking for feedback and questions.

If they haven’t – well, the temptation is to post your own. And that is fine. But gaming Reddit isn’t. OnGamers was banned for Reddit for doing this, and lost 50% of their traffic overnight. Here’s a rule of thumb: no more than 10% of your links should be to your own stories.

Victoria Taylor, director of communications at reddit

Victoria taylor

Most social media sites are about building followers. Not Reddit. It’s all one-to-one with the possibility of things going one-to-many pretty quickly. People are sharing to a group of friends, not “publishing”. They probably don’t think of it a news.

They’re announcing reddit live update threads. The UkranianConflict live threat has been going for 5 months now.

The average Redditor spends 20 minutes per visit, and comes three times a day. Everything on Reddit is democratically chosen and up voted. They have a video portal, reddit TV – and the average user spends 40 minutes there.

The basic rule is: don’t do self-promotion. Identify yourself, and interact with the community. Be a useful part of it. Doing an Ask Me Anything can help immensely. They’re enjoyable, and a time commitment of one to two hours. And you can use sponsored headlines to push content into there, if you want.

Remember:

  • respect the community – your deadlines are not their deadlines.
  • The communities belong to their members
  • engage with transparency

Fergus Bell, AP

Fergus bell

Why do news organisations care about UGC? It allows us to be eyewitnesses to the world, develop multi-format reporting, and work in real-time. But there are ethical considerations here. Is the content owned by the person posting it? Is there justification for just grabbing it during breaking news events. Do you credit users or platforms?

Verification is vital. There was a video of a child being snatched by a golden eagle. It was fake – a movie making project. The Reddit community is great at forensically analysing things like this. You need to be transparent about your verification process – and say how you verified it.

Viral spread can be gamed. There was a “hilarious” flight attendant video that seems to have been created just so the woman in question could get on Ellen. Are you comfortable being part of that game?

It’s OK to be just an observer. If someone is posting from a dangerous place – is you interacting with them going to put them at risk. Digital door knocks need the same sensitivity as real life visits.

Ownership – It’s very easy to take the best videos from Reddit’ front page, and stick them on your site. The thing is, people know what Reddit is, and what the front peg is. You’re not adding value. Fergus likes starting his searches on page 6 – the stuff that’s bubbling under, but hadn’t hit the front page yet. The whole of the journalism business bombarding Reddit posters – who may not even have created what they’re sharing – with request for reuse is not the right approach. We need to rethink this.

Anonymity – would we take tho story from an anonymous source in other situations? If not, why do it on Reddit? We need to think about this.

Q&A

Bombarding – Fergus rarely sees many responses, and rarely sees journalists asking if it’s their work. Reach out through direct messages and other methods. Victoria point out you can, in some situations, go through her.

Broadcasting – it’s not a community that belongs to you. You can add to the discussion, but not use it as your marketing channel. They’re happy to help you strategise – think about AMAs, for example, around big stories.

Culture – There’s a guide on their wiki.