Checklists for verifying user-generated content

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?


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Issue areas: Data quality

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Published on: 22 May 2015
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