Checklists for verifying user-generated content

/ May 22, 2015

The Verification Handbook is a great resource for humanitarian responders and journalists who collect user-generated content (UGC) like photos or video during emergencies. In Chapter 9, Craig Silverman and Rina Tsubaki set out a step-by-step process to verify this kind of data.

There’s a quick summary below, but it’s really worth going through the whole thing (whether it’s an emergency or not):

1. Identify and verify the original source and the content (including location, date and approximate time).

The first step of UGC verification is to identify the original content, be it a tweet, image, video, text message, etc. Some questions to start with:

  • Can you find the same or similar posts/content elsewhere online?
  • When was the first version of it uploaded/filmed/shared?
  • Can you identify the location? Was the UGC geotagged?
  • Are any websites linked from the content?

2. Triangulate and challenge the source

Once you go through the above steps ask yourself:

  • Do the images/videos/content make sense given the context in which it was shot/filmed?
  • Does anything look out of place?
  • Do any of the source’s details or answers to my questions not add up?
  • Did media outlets or organizations distribute similar images/videos?
  • Is there anything on Snopes related to this?
  • Does anything feel off, or too good to be true?

3. Obtain permission from the author/originator to use the content

When seeking permission:

  1. Be clear about which image/video you wish to use.
  2. Explain how it will be used.
  3. Clarify how the person wishes to be credited. Do they want to be credited with a real name, a username or anonymously?
  4. Consider any consequences of using the content and/or name of the person. Is it necessary to blur the faces for privacy and security reasons? Will the creator/uploader be put in danger if you credit them by real name?


About the contributor

Tom started out writing and editing for newspapers, consultancies and think tanks on topics including politics and corruption in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, then moved into designing and managing election-related projects in countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Bolivia. After getting interested in what data and technology could add in those areas and elsewhere, he made a beeline for The Engine Room. Tom is trying to read all of the Internet, but mostly spends his time picking out useful resources and trends for organisations using technology in their work.

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