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Six Steps for Fact Checking Citizen Media

Anyone can be a publisher today - thanks to the web. As a result, there are so many more sources of news and information, which makes fact checking all the more critical in fast moving news stories.  When disinformation gets into the news cycle, it can lead to people being put in harm’s way.  Here, then, is a set of six tips to help you get it right.

  1. Who is the original source?

Every piece of news has a source - the person who told you the news.  Who is the source of the report you are seeing? Do you know who the original source is? If not try to find out.  if you’re on Twitter, ask the Twitter user who she heard from.  Or you could run some advanced searches to find the earliest mention of this news.

(Advanced search: Twitter  -- YouTubeGoogle)

  1. Is the source credible and authentic?

Is it likely the person who told you this news is close to the story?  You hear some news from Suez from a Twitter user - is this Twitter user registered in Suez? Has she been tweeting about Suez recently, or with other Twitter users from there and in a local lingo? Has the source been active for some time? If not, the account may be used to spread disinformation.  Does the source have consistent accounts on a number of different social media - if so she is more likely to be real?  If the source is a blog or website, check who owns it with Who.is.  Or if email, check its location - find out more here.

(Check users and companies across the web: Rapportive - Identify - Polaris)

  1. What does the source want to achieve by sharing this news?

All sources come with a particular viewpoint which affects how and why they report the news.  NATO will talk of ‘civilian casualties’ caused by its 2011 campaign in Libya, while Human Rights Watch will talk of ‘civilian deaths’. Ask, is this source working for a political party, a government agency, a particular company, an activist network or a media group? Check that and assess whether the association undermines the credibility of the information being reported.

  1. Is the report new?

Often an old story gets picked up and circulated in social media.  You could use Google advanced search to check for previous references to the story.  If it is an image, there are tools to help you check it is original and new, such as TinEye and Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer.  Duplication on YouTube is a particular problem, so be especially careful there. Run a weather search on Wolfram Alpha (eg. search for ‘Weather today at 10.30 in damascus’.)

(Check images and videos are new: TinEyeJeffrey’s Exif ViewerWolfram Alpha)

  1. Is the report accurate?

As a rule of thumb, if you don’t know whether a statement is true or false, check.  Check the location of videos by looking for statues and notable buildings and then cross-reference these on a map.  Listen to accents to check they are from the same area as the video.  Check photos carefully to see whether they have been altered.  JpegSnoop can help with this. If you are trying to check the accuracy of a factual statement that seems improbable,  check it is not a common internet myth that has been recreated using Snopes.

(Mapping tools: WikimapiaOpen Street Map - Google Maps - Bing Maps)

  1. Is the report consistent?

Is the report internally consistent?  A report that is confused, inconsistent, or hazy is less likely to be credible.  Try to enrich the report you have with other sources and types of media.  The ideal would be to have text statements, images and video from different sources that show the same thing.  Try also to bring together reports from different languages. In Egypt, for example, you could check that the Arabic language and English language bloggers are saying the same thing.  Because they blog in different languages, they are likely to represent different networks, meaning you have more chance of bringing together two independent witness statements.  If you don’t speak the language, there are tools to help you.

(Search for information in Arabic: news.meedan.netYamli.comGoogle Search Translated Foreign Pages)

If you are unsure, don’t share the report - or ask more questions of the people who are reporting this news.  If you think the report is credible, show the steps you’ve taken to check this.

This post used a number of brilliant articles:

http://onlinejournalismblog.posterous.com/content-context-and-code-verifying-informatio

http://www.cjr.org/thenewsfrontier/bestpracticesforsocialmedi.php?page=all

http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/2012/03/30/jpod-advice-on-verifying-social-media-content-and-correcting-errors/

For more links like these see:

http://www.diigo.com/user/gweyman/verification