How the BBC is trying to avoid the gullibility trap

As a trained journalists I am both delighted and wary of using social media to report events, particularly when only few sources are available. While it is comparatively easy to cross-check information if you have access to a dozen people, it is quite difficult when you have no correspondents in the area and only few sources, such as in Syria, Yemen or right after many disasters.

In my opinion a lot of media still take what they read on Twitter or see on YouTube and  republish it without doing their due diligence – and this is not only true for the media but also for other projects and initiatives like Ushahidi that rely on social media for their data.

The BBC has now published elements process for verifying social media content, which makes for an excellent read. What emerges is a process that is more like that of a traditional intelligence agency, than what most people had in mind when joining journalism school. The steps include:

  • Referencing locations against maps and existing images from, in particular, geo-located ones.
  • Examining weather reports and shadows to confirm that the conditions shown fit with the claimed date and time.
  • Checking weaponry, vehicles and licence plates against those known for the given country.