In the age of digital communication, ordinary people (citizen journalists) always posted varies contents, including text and photos on the social media, especially in emergency news break. However, it is difficult for journalists to verify the source and authenticity of the posts. Therefore, journalists should use different tools to verify the posts before using them.
In 2012, the Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern part of the United States and caused severe floods. Fake photos about the flood went viral on social media, for example, the photo showing that a shark swam in the yard gained 1260 retweets in 4 hours (Burgess, Bruns 2012). However, the Marine Science Today clarified that it was impossible for sharks to swim in such narrow and shallow water. Even photos with high amounts of retweet or share, it may still be wrong and untrustworthy.
Referring to different guidelines and handbooks for the verification and accuracy standard will be a good way for journalists to use the contents on social media. In the BBC guidelines, it states that ‘Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth. Our output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language.’ Thus, as a responsible journalist, the verification and accuracy standards are to produce an all-rounded and true story. This standard can be achieved by checking the authenticity of the content and finding the relevant materials of the contents.
The Verification Handbook produced by The European Journalism Centre (2014) provided journalists with a four-step verification method before using the User-Generated Content (UGC) on social media. The first step is to confirm the authenticity of the account. Journalists have to find out the account who post the contents. Then, journalists should check whether the account is fake or real. If that is a fake account, the information posts will not be reliable.
The second step is to confirm the source. It is important for journalists to find out the original uploader and talk to the uploader. This step enables the journalists to check whether the contents match the real event by asking the uploader about the details. As the UGC may have a bias, journalists can ask more details and clarify the whole situation in order to eliminate bias and create an all-rounded report.
The third and last step are to confirm the date and location of the event. This information may be difficult to find, but it is important for journalists to state the date and location as this information are the basic elements in a report and these can complete the report.
In conclusion, the role of social media is becoming more crucial nowadays. It can provide journalists unique and useful materials for the story. However, journalists should carefully confirm the authenticity of the contents before using it. Journalists should also keep the standard of verification and accuracy.
Burgess, Bruns 2012, ‘How many fake Sandy pictures were really shared on social media?’, The Guardian.
Wardle 2014, ‘Verifying User-Generated Content’, Verification Handbook, P25.
BBC Guidelines, P3.