Anthony De Rosa, Digital Production Manager of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and former Editor in Chief for Circa the first media organization focused on producing news for mobile consumption, once said:
“The first thought of the shooter is usually not: ‘I need to share this with a major TV news network’ because they don’t care about traditional television news networks or more likely they’ve never heard of them. They have, however, heard of the Internet and that’s where they decide to share it with the world.”
The marriage of the consumer, the smartphone and the ability to film and share pictures and video of events occurring around them via social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, has ushered in a paradigm shift in the way we report, receive and consume news and information. These days, ‘Journalist’ Jane or Jim is less likely to send photos/film to news organizations than to upload and share eyewitness records of breaking news events; and research evidence is confirming the fact that more and more, the reading, and viewing audience are making the social media landscape the port of first call for news and information.
The latest data lends supporting credibility to the rise of this new media environment and of these so-called ‘accidental journalists’:
- YouTube users watch 5 billion videos each day.
- Twitter sends 500 million tweets each day
- Facebook shares 4.75 billion pieces of content daily (2013 data)
Journalists are increasingly looking to harness the resources of social media networks to report, research, find sources and contacts, find interview prospects and to go all out in the attempt to reach the largest audience, and to add timeliness and value to their published work.
Whether deliberately of by accident, the social media arena of breaking news provides rich soil for false or erroneous reporting; as journalists, you are expected to bring to the social media table, all the requisite skepticism you so doggedly employ when using the traditional research tools of your trade. Best practices demand you start from the premise that all content you find need to be verified.
Before you make the decision to publish user generated content (UCG) gathered via social media, authoritative voices, such as those found in the most valuable Verification Handbook, insist that you ask and bust your chops to answer these four basic questions:
Is this the original piece of content?
Run checks on any photo or video you find on social media; make sure it is real before using it in your story. Take advantage of reverse image search tools such as TinEye or Google Images to determine whether a photo has been posted online previously, photoshopped or is a fake.
Most videos come with a description, tag, comment or some piece of identifying text. Look for acronyms, place names and other pronouns that would make good keywords in a search. Cut and paste foreign language descriptions into Google Translate
Who uploaded the content? (source)
You’re batting a thousand if you can verify who uploaded the YouTube/Twitter/Facebook video or photo. Some people list a great deal of information on their social profiles, and having a real name (especially one that is not too common) can be akin to hitting the jackpot on a slot machine. Take a good look at the profile; Facebook and Twitter have added blue verification checks to the profile of many celebs, government officials, journalists and other well-known persons. For those of us who populate the ‘other’ group, look for linked websites, status updates, previous tweets, date the page was created, friends, followers… A YouTube profile with the barest of personal information, but one which includes a website URL can be paired with a product like WhoIs to reveal an individual’s address, email and personal telephone number.
When was the content created? (date)
Verifying the date of a piece of video can be one of the most difficult elements of verification. Some people who frequently share video and/or photos on social media, will often include a newspaper from that day with the date clearly visible. Using information about the weather on a particular day can also be helpful. The WolframAlpha search engine is a cool and useful tool for checking the weather; a simple search, “What was the weather in Port-au-Prince on March 15, 2017” will return the result you seek. This can be combined with tweets and data from local weather forecasters, as well as other uploads from the same location on the same day, to cross-reference weather.
If you are attempting to verify the date of a YouTube video, look directly below the search bar for the Filters menu and select Upload Date. Keep in mind that YouTube uses Pacific Standard Time in its date stamps, so video will appear to have been uploaded before an event took place.
Where was the content created? (location)
Verifying the location of social media content is a very important requisite before going to print or uploading that photo or video; not all social media is geolocated and it’s always more difficult, when the imaging is out of date, for example in war-torn countries or in places that experienced natural disasters – earthquakes or flooding, e.g. Twitter provides the option to include ‘location’ on the advanced search page, but the experts say it is not foolproof.
Many uploaders who are aware of the challenges of verification often pan upward before or after filming some footage to identify a building that could be located on a map, whether that’s a tall tower, a minaret or cathedral, or signpost. This is partly a result of news organizations’ asking activist groups to do this, as well as activists themselves sharing advice about best practice when uploading UGC.
The Verification Handbook offers some practical ways to attempt to certify location; I’ve pasted some of them here, and I encourage you to read Chapter 9 (Creating a Verification Process and Checklist(s))
- Find reference points to compare with satellite imagery and geolocated photographs, such as:
- Signs/lettering on buildings, street signs, car registration plates, billboards, etc. Use Google Translate or free.orc.com for online translation.
- Distinctive streetscape/landscape such as mountain range, line of trees, cliffs, rivers, etc.
- Landmarks and buildings such as churches, minarets, stadiums, bridges, etc.
- Use Google Street View or Google Maps’ “Photos” function to check if geolocated photographs match the image/video location.
- Use Google Earth to examine older images/videos, as it provides a history of satellite images. Use Google Earth’s terrain view.
- Use Wikimapia, the crowdsourced version of Google Maps, to identify landmarks.
- Weather conditions such as sunlight or shadows to find approximate time of day. Use Wolfram Alpha to search weather reports at specific time and place.
- License/number plates on vehicles
Source: Verification Handbook.
If you’re caught in the grip of a breaking news story, and are desperate to contact a source(s), if you have a name, then, for starters, consider the J-School’s paid version of Spokeo which mines social networks and public records data to return search results that usually include email addresses, telephone numbers, usernames and relatives, or Thatsthem; its free search helps you to find the person with the information you have (username, email, phone number) they may each prove quite useful in quickly finding your subject’s social media footprint.
TIP: The content of public records databases will always be there; not so for social media content. In times of controversy, scandal, inappropriate comments – disappearing tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram images, and even personal sites and pages are more the norm than the exception. Go after those social media profiles first – grab that screen or snap shot asap.
Barbara Gray’s tipsheet suggests:
- Evernote.com captures your web research in a single hub you can access anywhere. Download the Web Clipper for Chrome, it will take a snapshot of a page and file it in your notes.
Using Facebook for Reporting and Newsgathering
Facebook’s subscribers have populated their pages with nuggets from their lives that provide rich color, and are the very tools the intrepid journalist can use to get information about a source, and this information can often be transferred to other social platforms:
name, hometown, phone, email, username, current and past employment, aliases, family members, friends, birthday, posts, photos, groups, likes, current and previous residence, schools attended, sexual preference, gender, relationship, anniversary, languages, places visited, events attended or plan to attend, networks. This is good grist for the journalist
Use the Facebook search bar at the top of your Facebook page to search for connections between people and things. Search by name, school, workplace, friends, interests, etc. Searches profiles, pages, public posts, check-ins, photo captions, etc.
Facebook Custom Search. This custom search tool can be used to search Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and most recently YouTube social networks; simply select the network and enter your search criteria. Find people by name, education, employment, groups they are members of, etc. Best used as a Chrome add-on in your tool bar.
Don’t forget about Google’s superior search engine which allows you to search for text within links and URLs. Use the ‘site’ operator and add keywords, or names.
If you are trying to contact someone who is a member of a closed group, e.g. Polar Bear Friends, try messaging or friending the group’s administrator and ask that he/she post a query for you.
Twitter Reporting and Newsgathering Search Tools
Those of you who are familiar with Google’s Advanced Search page will feel quite at home with Twitter Advanced Search Page. Take full advantage of this template to help you filter your searches by location, user, date.
Tagged on the site as ‘a smarter way to search Twitter’, TwXplorer (sign in with your Twitter protocols) lets you find tweets on topic, and that’s where the similarities with a traditional Twitter search end. The results of a TwXplorer search show the most recent tweets, commonly used terms, hashtags and the mostly frequently shared links. TwXplorer also offers the option to search Twitter Lists you have created or are subscribed to. A great way to stay current with news about your beats. When you click on any term, hashtag or link in your search result, TwXplorer returns only the subset of search results containing the term you clicked on. The ‘saved snapshots’ option helps you (especially with breaking news) to save your search for later viewing.
It’s all about connections. Compare/analyze followers and friends with Twiangulate. This tool can prove quite useful if you are following a particular beat, and want to add valuable sources to your Twitter List.
A list is a curated group of Twitter users. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the users on that list.
Note: Lists are used for reading Tweets only. You cannot send or direct a Tweet to members of a list, for only those list members to see.
To create a list:
- Go to your Lists page. This can be done via your profile picture drop down menu in the top right navigation bar or by going to your profile page and clicking on Lists, also in the right hand navigation bar.
- Click Create list.
- Enter the name of your list, a short description of the list, and select if you want the list to be private (only accessible to you) or public (anyone can subscribe to the list). Name: BK12 Description: Useful Information for Residents of Brooklyn’s Community District 12
- Click Save list.
You can now comb Twitter for persons with expertise or organizations with similar interest and add same to your list(s).
TwitterTip: If you add someone to a list but DON’T follow them, they will not receive a notification that they have been added to a list and will not know that they are being monitored via a list. Really helpful if you are doing investigative reporting.
Tweetdeck Twitter’s social media dashboard is a lovely housekeeping tool. If you have more than one account, you no longer need to sign in separately to your accounts, nor do you need to send posts separately. TweetDeck lets you create columns to display specific content from Twitter that interest you – Twitter Lists, Mentions…the results of a search query, a list of favorites, the latest Tweets from a hashtag or trend, etc. With Tweetdeck, you can watch tweets from people you follow (in real time), and interact with your followers as well. Use it to manage your Facebook account(s)as well. Sign in with your personal Twitter account to get started.
All My Tweets
A useful tool for the investigative reporter is All My Tweets. Sign in with your Twitter account; enter a username, and search for all of a user’s tweets on one page. Option available to filter out retweets and to hide replies
Hashtags: First Use
Are you trying to find the first time that a popular hashtag was used on Twitter? Have a go at Who Tweeted it First – search keywords or a link to see who tweeted it first.
Looking for someone’s first tweet? If it’s a public profile, MyFirstTweet will find it. This link shows the result of a search for Barbara Gray’s first tweet.
Best practices suggest a search of Google, using the ‘site’ function, to find pictures/photos of (breaking) news events that have been posted on Instagram.
If the Instagram account holder has a Twitter account, a link will usually be provided; easy way to send a tweet requesting additional information, an interview, or permission to use the photo.
LinkedIn Social Search
- Join LinkedIn for Journalists
- Advanced search (must be logged in to use this direct link) can search by keyword, name, location, current or past employees
- Alumni search can search for classmates at a certain school, during a certain time period
- If you can’t see a name in a profile on Twitter or LinkedIn try an “X-Ray Search” – just copy and paste the details from their profile into Bing or Google
More Verification Tools & Techniques
- How Storyful Verifies Images – using Google Image reverse search and Exif viewers
- Storyful ebook: Social Newsgathering
- Foller Me analyzes the latest tweets from a user’s profiles to provide additional information about him/her. Search with username