To give you a brief overview over some of the most important aspects and challenges of verification and how The Whistle fits in to this picture, we have come up with the following list of ’10 Things to Know About Social Media Verification’.
1. Collecting verifiable information
Much of the burden of the verification process can be taken off the reputation of the source at the input stage by prompting witnesses to submit as much corroborating information as possible. One of The Whistle’s main aims is the empowerment of civilians, or specifically, the uninformed witness, in regards to social media verification in a human rights violation context by providing them with a channel to submit verifiable data. Collecting proper documentation is key, especially in times of crisis when social media witness reports are often fuelled by emotions.
In order for social media verification to work, organisations must pay attention to the importance of metadata. Metadata comes in the form of descriptive titles, text, keywords, dates and timestamps, as well as location. Often times, when content is uploaded to popular media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, metadata is stripped or altered. In such cases, it may be unclear whether a certain image or video has been uploaded before or after a particular event, and therefore, whether or not it can be verified. For example, YouTube alters the date stamps of its videos to represent Pacific Standard Time. This process sometimes makes it appear as if a video is uploaded before the event it claims to show. Moreover, only a small percentage of content is automatically geolocated and the task of establishing the location of a specific image or video is more difficult when the metadata surrounding the original time and data has been stripped or altered. In order to verify an image or video, it’s common for human rights defenders to have to corroborate the location, time, and approximate date stamp in order to make sure that such image or video was taken in a specific context.
3. Source credibility
The importance of distinguishing source credibility is a significant factor in the social media verification process.There are three kinds of people who upload human rights violations media: fact finders, witnesses, and perpetrators. Fact-finders are those who corroborate information in order to make a claim regarding an event. Witnesses are, of course, civilian witnesses to human rights violations who are able to report information through social media platforms. Perpetrators, however, are those who post false or misleading information online. It is therefore important to keep in mind that deliberate hoaxes do happen, and social media verification must include mechanisms designed to differentiate and identify specific sources.
4. Content credibility
The actual content of what is being uploaded onto social media platforms or submitted to verification forms must be scrutinized in order to detect the veracity of the content. Today, is it easy to edit and adjust images and videos to make them look as if something has happened when in reality it hasn’t; just because it’s a video or an image doesn’t mean it’s depicting the truth. It is possible for people to stage a seemingly heinous event and, albeit rarely, manipulate, not only audience on the internet, but crucially, human rights defenders or organizations.
By arming civilian witnesses with knowledge about digital information verification, for example, the kinds of metadata that can make a claim easier to verify and then disseminate, civilian witnesses of human rights violations are empowered in providing meaningful information. Social media verification requires citizens to be educated enough to provide information that can be verified.
As with most processes, gathering and consuming information has a cost. Economically, the less time input and verification processes take, the greater the number of civilian witnesses heard. Increasing the amount of verifiable information during the input stage quickens the verification process; the human rights organization is not required to spend their resources on retrieving or corroborating information.
7. Collection and verification techniques
Techniques for collection and verification of social media content have changed alongside advances in technology. The widespread use of smartphones has equip everyday citizen witnesses with the ability to report human rights violations, aiding in the collection of information. The most popular social media verification techniques include a mix of traditional human-led investigation techniques and technology based tools. However, the employment of technology-based tools alongside human-led verification techniques is currently limited due to the recent emergence of the field of digital media verification.
8. Common verification processes
The least common type of verification processes are humanitarian; most are characterised by commercial and government aims and incentives. Additionally, out of those organisations who have attempted to include social media verification for humanitarian practices, not every organisation processing content makes a definitive claim as to its veracity.
9. Not all content will fulfill every verification check
It is rare that any single piece of content will meet all the requirements posed by both human and technological verification techniques and processes. It may be the case that a piece of content will fail to fulfill a certain technological aspect of verification, but through further human information corroboration it could in fact be verifiable. Conversely, the opposite is frequently the case, and we must thus be careful not to create an over-reliance on technological methods.
10. Social media is not a universal solution
While looking at the potential of social media verification in an ever globalising world characterized by increasing technological innovation, it is important to remember that social media verification is not a universal solution to human rights violation reporting. Disparities in infrastructure, access to technology, and state surveillance can easily lead to the underreporting of human rights violations.
For further reading see The Whistle’s report on The Digital Information Verification Field under the ‘Research’ tab on The Whistle’s website.