When disaster strikes, it’s a safe bet that journalists aren’t too far behind. But citizens are often quicker.
From the recent demonstrations in Iran to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, social media users have played an increasingly vital role in the dissemination of spot news during a crisis. From first-person accounts to photos and videos, these contributions have often formed the backbone of initial media reports.
At the same time, it’s exceedingly difficult to verify information in a breaking news situation. With that in mind, here’s a list of things that citizens can do in breaking news situations to make it easier for journalists to verify their posts.
1. Most importantly: Make sure that your physical safety isn’t in danger. If you’re in the middle of a crowd or scene that’s getting out of control, leave and find somewhere safe. From Derek Thomson, head of France 24 Observers (which works with thousands of citizen volunteers):
“Try to find a safe space from which you can observe what is going on but remain in physical security, such as a building overlooking the scene. If you cannot find a safe space, get out of the area and go home! You have no obligation to document what is going on.”
2. Try your best to hold the camera or phone you’re using steady. It will make it easier for journalists to verify where you are and what you’re documenting.
3. Focus on details — where, when and how many. The best information is that which you’ve heard or seen yourself.
“If you hear an explosion, look at your phone to remember when it happened,” Thomson said in an email. “If you see bodies, count them; if you see tanks, count them. If you see men or women in uniform, note the color of their badges and berets.”
4. When filming something in a crowd, try to get to high ground so you can get a more general view. That will help journalists better quantify how many people were there.
5. Show a landmark like a building or monument to make it easier for fact-checkers to later verify your photos and videos. From Sam Dubberley, manager of the Digital Verification Corps at Amnesty International:
“The key is just trying to capture as much of the geographic information that’s individual to the location you’re in.”
6. Never share something unless you saw or heard it yourself, or have confirmed the information with at least two other people.
7. Send suspect information to local journalists or fact-checkers you trust, and ask that they send you their conclusion. Tell them exactly where you received the information, from whom and if you believe it to be real or fake. Later, reshare their article in those same social media groups, or directly with friends and family.
8. If you see questionable content in a private Facebook or WhatsApp group, take screenshots and send them to journalists or fact-checkers. Note that you received the information in a private group, and they will ask to join in order to get more information from the original sender. Here’s more on how to debunk hoaxes on WhatsApp.
9. If you have more time, use reverse image search tools from Google, TinEye and RevEye on your phone or computer to verify whether an image is real or not. If it’s a video, take a screenshot and upload to one of these tools.
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