The Meedan Blog Archive

"Finding the Wisdom in the Crowd" and creating spaces for knowledge sharing

It's an infrequent occurrence on the Meedan blog that we feel pushed to hit the "reblog" button, but sometimes important blog posts coincide with even more important breaking news events, and the time comes to reblog and remix.

A few short weeks ago, Nieman Reports released their summer issue - essential reading for those of us pondering the increasingly overlapping worlds of social media and news reporting, and developing tools to help make sense of the social web.

As a disjointed picture of events emerged yesterday from across Syria and journalists around the world took grappled with the flood of reports, rumours, videos, photos and livestreams, an important post from the Summer Nieman Report sprang to mind: Finding the Wisdom in the Crowd, by Storyful CEO Mark Little.

In the report, Little helpfully shares some of the questions that his team of editors at Storyful ask when they are verifying and vetting citizen content:

Can we geo-locate this footage? Are there any landmarks that allow us to verify the location via Google Maps or Wikimapia?

Are streetscapes similar to geo-located photos on Panoramio or Google Street View?

Do weather conditions correspond with reports on that day?

Are shadows consistent with the reported time of day?

Do vehicle registration plates or traffic signs indicate the country or state?

Do accents or dialects heard in a video tell us the location?

Does it jibe with other imagery people are uploading from this location?

Does the video reflect events as reported on Storyful's curated Twitter lists or by local news sources?

Where is this account registered and where is the uploader based, judging by his or her history?

Are there other accounts—Twitter, Facebook, a blog, or website—affiliated with this uploader? How can they help us identify location, activity, reliability, bias and agenda?

How long have these accounts been in existence? How active are they?

Does the uploader write in slang or dialect that is identifiable in the video's narration?

Can we find WHOIS (domain registration) information for an affiliated website?

Is the person listed in local directories? Does the person's online social circles indicate a proximity to the story/location?

Does the uploader "scrape" videos from news organizations and YouTube accounts?

Are video descriptions dated? Does the title of the video have file extensions such as .AVI or .MP4?

Are we familiar with this account? Has the content and reportage been reliable?

The list is extremely thorough, though Little makes clear that it isn't exhaustive, and its publication is timely. As explained recently in a BBC Trust report, it seems increasingly important that media audiences are made aware of the process by which the citizen media they are consuming (often via mainstream media outlets) has been checked, and to what extent it can be verified.

At our recent Meedan team gathering in Vancouver (blog post to follow shortly) much of our discussion and thinking was focussed on two issues:

How we could bring structure to this questioning of citizen media, and how can we open the process and encourage its use for online communities

How we can develop a means of displaying a piece of media's "nutritional value" and link it in a transparent fashion to the checking work and questions that have been asked before it was published

As we push forward with development of Checkdesk, we'd love to hear your input on these points. In the context of yesterday's fast breaking events in Damascus, for example, what was useful for you as a journalist, citizen journalist, or onlooker in understanding or helping understand the narrative of what was happening?

We'd love to hear your thoughts, and also to hear your feedback on our ideas, which we've also submitted as an entry to the African News Innovation Challenge.