It can be easy to fake online content. It also can be difficult to find the original source of online content. Our sources live on the Internet, so it is important that we try to confirm that the user-generated content we use in our stories is authentic, original and from a trustworthy source.
Verifying user-generated content isn’t an exact science, and this guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list of verification techniques. If you know of another method to verify a piece of content, please use it (and share it with the GV community)!
- 1 Be Skeptical
- 2 Vet the Source
- 3 Verify That the Content Is Original and Authentic
- 3.1 Fact-Check
- 3.2 Is It Original?
- 3.3 Is It Authentic?
- 3.3.1 Search Google Images
- 3.3.2 Confirm the Date
- 3.3.3 Confirm the Location
- 4 Include the Verification Process in Your Story
- 5 Checklist
- 6 Case Studies and Resources
We must always approach user-generated content with skepticism. We must ask ourselves, how do we know this? Having trusted sources of information is a good step, but we still must question information, images and video from people we trust because they can make mistakes from time to time. After all, if the content turns out to be false, Global Voices authors and editors are the ones who will be blamed, not the source.
Vet the Source
We must confirm who the original source of the content is and determine if they are trustworthy.
Find the Original Source
This might mean we have to dig through all the retweets and republications of a piece of content to find out who published it first. Don’t rely on photos of tweets or a manual RT, which can be easy to fake. The actual tweet itself — whether still online or cached — from the original source is necessary.
Research the Source’s Online History
Read through the public profiles and publications of the source. Are they Twitter or Facebook verified? Keep an eye out for issues with consistency, such as:
-Where does it say they are based? Were they tweeting about experiencing long lines at a Buenos Aires supermarket yesterday, and today they’re tweeting a photo they supposedly took of a train crash in Russia? -How long have their accounts been active? Were they only recently created? -Are the views and content from their account of consistent quality? Are they human? Keep an eye out for bot-like behavior, such as posting to a schedule or incoherent responses. -Who do they follow? Who follows them?
Look for any online discussions about the source that indicate if he or she is reliable.
Contact the Source
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the source to find out more about them or confirm that they are the author of the content. Remember to be skeptical, but courteous.
Verify That the Content Is Original and Authentic
Before we use a piece of user-generated content, we must make sure it isn’t faked or hasn’t been manipulated in some way. This can include a piece of content that is real but placed in the wrong context.
Whether written or spoken, fact-check any statements that are made. If any part of the content is dubious, don’t use it until you can confirm it.
Is It Original?
We need to verify if a piece of content, such as an image or video, has been published before.
Reverse Image Search
Websites such as TinEye, Google Images and SauceNAO allow you to search the web for instances of an image. Simply drag and drop an image onto the main page, input the URL of the image or upload it to begin the search. The highest resolution photo is likely to be the original, though when multiple high-resolution photos appear in the results, it can require some detective work to figure out the original.
For videos, you can run a reverse image search of the video’s thumbnail to see if it has appeared before.
Search Selections of Text
If the content is text-based, select one or two sentences at a time and place them in a Google search to see if they appear.
For a video, do a search using words that are relevant to the video in the video hosting site, like YouTube, and filter the results by date. You may find the same video uploaded earlier than the copy you were working with.
Ask your contacts, such as the Global Voices community of experts, activists, journalists and bloggers, if they’ve seen the content before or can point you in the direction of someone who can help.
Is It Authentic?
We need to verify if a piece of content, such as an image or video, has been manipulated in any way or is described incorrectly.
Search Google Images
A photoshopped image won’t appear in a reverse image search, so we have to be more creative. Run a Google image search of specific items that appear in the image. Check for any photos that exactly match something that appears in the image in question.
Confirm the Date
Check to see if the upload date corresponds with any reported events that appear in the content. Be aware that YouTube timestamps its videos in Pacific Standard Time at the moment the upload begins, which can make some videos appear as if they were uploaded before an event occurred.
Check the Weather
If a photo, video or description asserts that it was raining or sunny in a specific location at a specific time, fact-check this. This is a good way to debunk old content that is misattributed to current events.
Check the Meta Data
For photos in their original form, you can check the metadata to see if it contains the date that the photo was taken using a service like http://www.findexif.com/. Some social media sites strip out the metadata from images, however, when they are uploaded.
Confirm the Location
If a photo, video or description of clothing seems strange for the area, check it out.
Check Any Visible Landmarks
If a photo, video or description includes any landmarks, do some research to make sure they match the given location of the content.
For example, if a video is said to be of protests in Mexico and a statue of Jesus Christ is seen in the background, confirm that it is indeed Mexico’s Cristo Rey statute, and not Brazil’s Cristo Redentor, Colombia’s Cristo Rey, Bolivia’s Cristo de la Concordia or Portugal’s Cristo Rei.
Google Maps street view option can come in handy for confirming landscapes and locations that appear in any user-generated content.
Translate Any Signs or Text
If signs or text appear in a photo or video, analyze them to see if they fit with the given location.
Listen for Any Location-Specific Slang or Accents
Make sure any spoken dialogue fits in with the given location of a photo or video.
Make use of the Global Voices community of contributors worldwide to help confirm the date or location or can point you in the direction of someone who can help.
Contact the Source
Again, don’t be afraid to reach out to the source to find out more.
Include the Verification Process in Your Story
It is important that we are open with readers how we have come to trust a piece of user-generated content. Try to include details of how you verified it along with the rest of your reporting.
Before you include user-generated content in a story, make sure that you have completed the following:
- Have you vetted the source?
- Have you confirmed that the content is original and authentic?
- Have you confirmed the date of the content?
- Have you confirmed the location of the content (if applicable)?
Case Studies and Resources
New evidence about Amina, the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ hoax: An account of how using verification techniques cast doubt on the authenticity of the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog, later revealed to be the work of an American man living in Edinburgh.
Lessons From the Fake New York Times Wikileaks Op-ed: An account of how social media users and journalists deconstructed the methods WikiLeaks used to push a fake opinion piece supporting purportedly by The New York Times supporting the organization.
Israeli weapons In Libya? How @acarvin and his Twitter followers debunked sloppy journalism: An account of how Andy Carvin and his followers investigated claims of Israeli munitions being used in Libya.
Citizen Video blog series by WITNESS: Advice on how to verify citizen video.
YouTube Data Viewer: A tool from Amnesty International that extracts useful hidden data from YouTube videos.
Step-by-Step Guide to Assess Citizen Video: A stress test from Amnesty International.
Best Practices for Social Media Verification: A round-up of leading media organizations’ tips and tricks for verifying social media content.
Verification Handbook: Step-by-step guidelines to verifying social media content in urgent situations.
Storyful’s Validation Process: An explanation of how Storyful verifies user-generated content.
When Good People Share Bad Things: The Basics of Social Media Verification: A lengthy excerpt of the 2014 Trends in the Newsroom report.
The Wayback Machine: An archive of snapshots throughout time of webpages.