What sorts of verification and accuracy standards are appropriate for material gathered on social networks?
To avoid misleading or misinforming the public it is important that all information shared by publications is accurate. This ethical consideration means that verification is key when looking at user generated content. If the material cannot be completely verified then it should not be used otherwise you risk sharing false information. The Verification handbook is a source that can be used to find verification techniques and ensure the content is true (Silverman 2013). Third parties such as other individuals or news organisations can also work together to verify content.
There is currently no single tool to track and verify all social media sources (Schifferes and Newman 2013). If such a tool was available it would simplify all journalistic verification needs and would increase the speed of news turnaround. In a study completed by Branstzaeg et al (2015), some advanced social media journalists said they used software such as Google Image Search, TinEye, Exif Viewers, Topsy and Tungtene to verify photos obtained from social networks. Video is harder and may require more tools but a location could be verified by checking it against the street view in Google Maps.
Alternatively the information could be shared if it seems accurate but is made clear that it has not been verified. By publishing it the public can then contribute to verify or disprove the content. It can then constantly be updated and authenticated. There is the risk of spreading false information and losing the trust of the readers but that risk has to be balanced with the chance that the user generated content might be accurate.
Brandtzaeg, P. B., Lüders, M., Spangenberg, J., Rath-Wiggins, L. and Følstad, A., 2015. Emerging journalistic verification practices concerning social media. Journalism Practice, 10 (3), 323–342.
Schifferes, S., Newman, N., Thurman, N., Corney, D., Göker, A. and Martin, C., 2014. Identifying and verifying news through social media. Digital Journalism, 2 (3), 406–418.
Silverman, C., 2013. Verification handbook. Available from: https://hazdoc.colorado.edu/handle/10590/3077 [Accessed 12 January 2017].
Does a journalist need to get permission from a member of the public who’s posted material on a social network before using that material? What other rights issues need to be considered?
One approach is to get permission from the content creator either verbally or in writing so that they can use the content and credit it when it is distributed. Others may wait until they have verified the accuracy of the content and then publish it regardless of whether they have permission or not. It may be more in the public interest to share the content than to wait for permission. Organisations could inform contributors how their material could be used on their website or in print.
Every social networking site has its own terms and regulations about content permission. Twitter says that, “You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)” (Tornoe 2015). This means that embedding a Tweet would be acceptable but publishing it as your own without permission is not okay.
It could also be argued that citizen journalists are either competing with or working alongside mainstream news (Kaufhold et al 2010). If someone has purely created material for their own use to distribute in competition with mainstream outlets, then their right to keep this information is stronger than someone making the material specifically for it to be used by the companies.
Kaufhold, K., Valenzuela, S. and de Zuniga, H. G., 2010. Citizen journalism and democracy: How user-generated news use relates to political knowledge and participation. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 87 (3-4), 515–529.
Tornoe, R., 2015. Publishing Dilemma.
Should a member of the public, who shares newsworthy material on social networks be credited by a journalist who uses that material?
When deciding whether to use material provided by a member of the public, journalists have to consider whether there is any risk of danger to that contributor. If the images or footage is coming from a crime scene or war zone then the first priority should be ensuring that member of the public is safe by urging them to seek shelter and not to try and gather any more content in that dangerous location. The citizen journalist can also be kept safe by ensuring you aren’t putting them in more danger by crediting them if the material is published. This could reveal their location or the communication with them could distract them from focusing on staying safe.
It would be advisable to get consent from those people in the footage and the person it belongs to before distributing and crediting the material. If this is not possible then the images should be cropped/blurred and the material left unaccredited in order to protect the identities of those members of the public involved. Despite the journalism rule about verifying news stories before publishing, the “tweet first, verify later” does lead to richer coverage (Bruno 2010). But this entails publishing without confirmation of the facts or crediting it which makes it risky.
If the newsworthy material provided by a member of the public needed to be edited before being published then it could be argued that no accreditation is needed. Thurman (2008) stated that it is always the aim to provide readers with a ‘good edited read’ and therefore if the original content is newsworthy but needs to be adapted, then crediting the source may not be essential.
Bruno, N., 2010. TWEET FIRST, VERIFY LATER? How real-time information is changing the coverage of worldwide crisis events [online]. Oxfordshire: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Thurman, N., 2008. Forums for citizen journalists? Adoption of user generated content initiatives by online news media. New Media & Society, 10 (1), 139–157.