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The BBC's best practices for verifying user-generated content

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Social media have set the stage for newsrooms to tap into user-generated content for their breaking news coverage. But the easier it becomes to gather content from users, the harder it can be to verify, especially on deadline.

The BBC's UGC Hub has been sourcing, checking and verifying, and distributing content since its inception in 2005, and has had to shift its approach over the years. Some of the latest BBC stories to include UGC content were Typhoon Haiyan, Nelson Mandela's death and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

"Rapidly changing user behavior has meant the team has had to be agile and constantly rethink the way it works, as well as test and adopt new tools to help us," wrote Trushar Barot, assistant editor of the Hub in this BBC Academy post.

To stay ahead of technology, the BBC is constantly trying out new tools. The newsroom has used NewsWhip, Banjo, Reddit and many other platforms to source UGC. BBC also added a "postform" to the bottom of certain stories calling out for on-the-scene content, such as eyewitness feedback, text, video and expert accounts, from non-reporters.

When it comes to verifying information or multimedia from a breaking news spot, reaching out to the source at the scene is a common first step. While checking basic facts, BBC journalists take care to treat the source with respect and consideration, given that many breaking news scenes can be traumatic in nature. Barot talks more about the ethics of reaching out to UGC providers in this video.

When journalists can't contact the source directly, the BBC journalists use techniques like examining exif data of images with free tools like FotoForensics. They use websites like Fake Follower Check to check the veracity of users' social media accounts, or Pipl to track down other social media accounts of the same user.

Once all the necessary steps are taken to verify the content, the BBC begins to distribute it across all its platforms. Journalists use a system called ENPS to send out UGC alerts to keep all reporters who are working on the story in the loop.

The alerts will only include contact details of the source after producers or reporters express interest in the content, and after getting permission from the source to be contacted for on-air interviews. Any specific requests for credit attribution will also be passed on to the journalists who will use the content.

In cases where they haven't reached the source, as is the case with videos coming out of Syria that are nearly impossible to verify, the UCG hub provides boilerplate language for the journalists to use. Here's an example used in the case of the Syria videos: “Caution: We are confident this footage is genuine, but because of its nature and source, we cannot be certain. Any use MUST include cautionary wording in cues/scripts/captions, such as: 'The BBC has not been able to fully authenticate this footage, but based on additional checks made on it, it is believed to be genuine.' ”

Via BBC Academy.

IJNet Editorial Assistant Margaret Looney writes about the latest media trends, reporting tools and journalism resources.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Sarah Joy.

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