Social media platforms have made significant strides since the last election in their fight against “fake news.” But quality controls and content moderation efforts are not enough to verify the billions of content distributed on the thousands of platforms and discussion boards people in the US visit every day.
Election years unleash the perfect storm of emotions, divisive opinions and algorithmic inconsistencies, enabling voter misinformation and election disinformation to spread online at an exponential rate. A variety of factors come together that continue to make it challenging to report on and understand world events.
Journalists have a responsibility to wade through hoaxes, doctored videos and misleading headlines to separate fact from fiction.
Here are five fundamental questions to evaluate and verify news content on social media:
One of the most crucial parts of content verification is chasing down the original uploader of a particular piece of video. Was it a sponsored account that first uploaded the content? Do their accounts exhibit bot-like behavior? What is their track record of posting video? In looking at an uploader’s history, essential clues can be gleaned in whether a piece of content was uploaded earnestly or with the purpose of misleading an audience. If the quality of the video varies drastically from the quality of the typical content the user shares (read: a different type of phone camera), then it may not be their own video.
What does the image or video suggest is taking place? The emotion or behavior the content aims to inspire (read: don’t vote for this person) can also raise questions about the content’s authenticity.
Does this content appear elsewhere? Did the event in the social media footage (rally, election day etc.) actually happen at the date and time suggested? Looking for an incident matching the video being widely reported on the same day by news sources and local police departments can go a long way in assuring us a video in question was filmed on the day it claims it was captured.
Geolocating a story involves advanced techniques, but everyone can apply some principles of geolocation. Landmarks, buildings and street signs can provide major clues around the location a video or photo was captured. Statues and monuments, street signs and shopfronts, license plates, the date at which buildings in sight were constructed, street layouts, and sounds can provide clues around a piece of content’s origin. Google Maps and Street View are tools that anyone can leverage to verify the location a social media video purports to be from.
What is the motivation behind sharing or creating this content? Did the uploader share it to raise awareness or report on a shocking live event, or does the uploader have a special interest in sharing this content? Content uploaded by advertisers, trolls, scrapers and other bad actors should automatically raise a red flag. Scrapers lift content from other accounts and pass it off as their own–they use dramatic language such as “CHECK THIS OUT” and urge viewers to subscribe, like and share.