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:
- Be clear about which image/video you wish to use.
- Explain how it will be used.
- Clarify how the person wishes to be credited. Do they want to be credited with a real name, a username or anonymously?
- 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?