A guide to using social media to report breaking news--without getting burned

by Margaret Looney
Oct 30, 2018 in Miscellaneous

When disaster strikes, reporters can easily access a wealth of information on social media. Verifying that information, however, is more difficult.

That's why the European Journalism Centre (EJC) has created the Verification Handbook. The free, online handbook bills itself as the "definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency coverage."

"Knowing the fact that social networks act as a well of information, and the aid/volunteer communities are actively helping out to get a better understanding on the disaster-affected area is the first step," said Rina Tsubaki, EJC project manager and one of the handbook's authors. "What we need to be prepared for, especially as the journalists, is how to debunk false and fake information and sort out facts and informative updates when these types of events happen."

Written by journalists from Storyful, the BBC, the Guardian and other top news outlets, the handbook's ten chapters cover topics including how to verify images, video and other user-generated content; tips for handling breaking emergency news; and how to prepare newsrooms for disaster coverage.

The handbook's advice should be useful not just for journalists, but for the public as well. "Any engaged citizen today should have a basic idea about how to tell if an image has been manipulated, if a video seems a bit off, if a tweet has misinformation," Craig Silverman, the handbook's editor, told journalism.co.uk. A noted verification expert, Silverman is content director at Spundge and editor of the Regret the Error blog on the Poynter website.

Chapter authors include other verification mavens, such as Malachy Browne, news editor of Storyful; Trushar Barot, assistant editor of the BBC News UGC hub; Mathew Ingram, senior writer at GigaOM; Philippa Law, UGC community coordinator at The Guardian and Anthony De Rosa, editor-in-chief of Circa.

The handbook is available in English, and Tsubaki said there is a demand for translation into other languages as well. The nonprofit social tech company Meedan is seeking volunteers to translate the handbook into Arabic. Meedan created the Checkdesk project that develops verification tools, and the company's research and communications manager Tom Trewinnard contributed to the handbook.

The Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the African Media Initiative (AMI) helped to finance the project, which is also supported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The handbook is available online now for free. Downloadable versions in formats including PDF and Kindle will be available Feb. 7.

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

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via stephenjohnbryde.