“The convergence of affordable smartphone and camera technology, ubiquitous Internet access and social media is largely responsible for the explosion in citizen-powered news coverage. One by-product of this is an enormous amount of video being uploaded and shared every minute, every hour.” – Malachy Browne, news editor with Storyful
Can’t agree more.
And the loads and loads of User Generated Contents (UGC) also give professional journalists a tougher task –verification by not only documents and paper records, but also DIGITAL SKILLS.
That’s why in a digital journalism course, we were trained to do the following exercises. Fact-checking needs prudence and patience. But it’s also rewarding when one gets the “Eureka!” moment.
Case study 1: verifying a Hong Kong student strike image
Step 1: where is the photo taken?
- Photo tag shows it was taken in Admiralty, Hong Kong.
- Look for Admiralty through Google earth.
- Discover the same building—JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong.
- Confirm the general location of the photo through visual clues like the composition of buildings and details (a pedestrian bridge) in it, using Google earth 3-D view.
- Corroborate the exact location. By cross-references of the landmarks through Google earth, the location of the photo is confirmed to be near the Central Government Office (22.279997, 114.165998).
- Double check through Google image searching for keywords “central government office hong kong”. Find a photo by other media
- Use Google street view dating back to the time the photo was uploaded (107 weeks ago as of Oct.17, 2016)
- Location of the photo confirmed
Step 2: confirm the image is what it is labelled
Google search for keywords “student protest central government office” and confirm there was student protest happened near central government office around the time the photo was taken.
Step 3: establish the author of the image
Google “lukasmessmer” the Instagram account and find the person who took the photo is LUKAS MESSMER. His blog shows he was covering the Occupy Central event in September 2014. His twitter account was also showed in the result list.
Conclusion: There is one more necessary step if I am going to use this image –contact with him through Twitter for the final verification and use approval.
Case study 2: verifying a Chile earthquake video on Instagram
Step 1: where is the video taken?
- Google search the tag “antofagasta” and know the photo was taken in Antofagasta, a port city in northern Chile.
- Match the building appearing in the video with the Google image searching results of keywords “antofagasta tsunami april 2014” and confirm the building to be the “Hospital del salvador”
- Use Google map to search for “hospital del salvador antofagasta”. And use Google earth to locate the exact building.
- In Google street view, corroborate the location of the camera by the details like the traffic lights
- Confirm the location of camera to be in a building (-23.659120, -70.396353) opposite to the Hospital del Salvador.
Step 2: confirm the video to be what it is labelled
Google search news for the keywords “antofagasta tsunami april 2014” (the date isconfirmed by the uploading date showed in Instagram). The results confirmed there was an earthquake hitting northern Chile on April 1, 2014 and a tsunami alert was triggered. In a detailed report by BBC, the earthquake came at 20:46 local time, which matches with the night view in the video. In the report a photo of Antofagasta people taking refuge is also presented. So the video is what it is labelled.
Step 3: establish the uploader of the video
Instagram profile shows the person who uploads the video is named Jorge Contreras Monardes. Google search the name and find a Facebook account of a person with the same name. Facebook profile information, together with a post in 2014 shows a same picture which is used as the Instagram profile picture, confirms that the Facebook account owner is the same person with the Instagram. A Facebook post on April 1, 2014 further confirms the author’s presence in Antofagasta on the day the video was shot.
Conclusion: it is very possible that this video is a true one, but a final check with the uploader through Instagram/Facebook messenger is still necessary before using.
Case study 3: verifying a Facebook video about a protest in Tangier, Morocco
Step 1: where is this video taken?
- Use translate function on Facebook (or Google translator in other cases) to get the Arabic post translated. The post indicates that the video is shot in Tangier, a major city in Morocco.
- With references to earlier and later video by the same uploader, and a cross-reference to Google news search in keywords “tangier protest 2015” (as is the uploading year of the video), the place of the event is Place des Nations in Tangier.
- Search for Place des Nations with Google map. In this case the Google earth doesn’t work that well, unable to provide a clear street view. But the Imagery function helps. A panorama picture uploaded by a user clearly show the layout of the plaza.
- Comparison of the video and the Google Imagery picture indicates the uploader should have taken the video at one side of the plaza, near a pedestrian crossing.
Step 2: confirm the video is what it is labelled
Post under the video says security forces caused catastrophe in the place (translated by Google). A Google news search for keywords “tangier protest 2015” shows there was a protest on Oct. 25, 2015. Furthermore, a list of videos on similar topic shows up when by the Arabic post from Facebook is pasted on YouTube’s search box. Some of the video were from local news organizations. Similar scenes in these video confirm the credibility of the Facebook video.
Step 3: establish the uploader
A Google search for the Facebook account name gave no other additional information about the uploader and he doesn’t seem to upload this video to other platforms like YouTube. But the video appears in some media’s website including Yahoo News and the credit is given to the uploader.
Conclusion: same as Case 2, it is very possible that this video is a true one, but a final check with the uploader by Facebook messenger is still necessary before using.
Post Script: stay suspicious, stay Sherlock.