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Verifying Social Media Information

Traditionally, information must be sourced or received before being processed and broadcast or spread as news. This had been the trail and path of journalism. While ultimately, everyone consumes the news, journalist deals with the sourcing, the initial sieving, and organization for broadcasting or printing.

Journalist are thus trained to go after the information, gather the information or data, prepare the information or data for the consumption of a greater number of people than those who had knowledge of the information. In an environment, where conspiracy and secrecy prevails, Journalist adapt by becoming investigative in approach, in order to be able to gather information.  Sometimes, investigative journalism becomes risky when the information involve appears to have the potential to be the albatross to some individual(s) especially criminals.

Today, there is a new trend to the path information takes in transforming into news. With the help of technology and the social media, journalism had been redefined albeit against technology divides. The use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. revises the route information becomes news. Broadcasting time had been drastically reduced to even seconds from the time of events.  Sharing of news amongst friends, family, colleagues, community members and peers had been made quite easy by the use of tablets, phones and online applications.

There are inherent advantages indeed of having information spread at record time in the modern era online. For example, the news about Weather conditions, crime and accident locations, change in Flight schedules etc. can now be transmitted within a very short period of time to consumers. This has its advantage in avoiding loss of time and even money and inconveniences.

Most persons do turn to online sources for news, whether it’s reading a newspaper online or sharing a news with friends and family. The fallout however from this quick and unconventional ways of sources for news is the difficulty in verifying the news. Often times, early reports turn out not to be true. Worse still is the fact that fake news circulate on social media and people may spread them without consideration for the consequences.

The danger of unconfirmed news (popularly known as fake news cannot be overemphasized.  It has both domestic as well as international implications for security and safety. Often, disputes, are fueled by fake and unconfirmed news. Many countries have even provided legislation to combat the menace but it is still prevailing in many instances.

The need to verify media information and news from sources such as social media is therefore very imperative and desirable.

One of the challenges with an attempt at verifying information on social media relate to its volume and the lack of adequate time to do that before broadcasting or sharing or using the information.

Many Journalists often have difficulties identifying the original source of a piece of information making the rounds on social media. Probing through masses of social media posts do take time, which is often in short supply.

The risks of legal challenges for sharing and/or promoting fake news is daunting to think about. Verifying these news sources and content therefore becomes a welcome approach and alternative especially for journalists who do this for a living.

The first approach to verifying social media information is to understand some basic principles. These include the fact that the information about the source and the content may have been tampered with or transformed at the time of news getting to you. There is therefore need to independently scrutinize and examine these two factors for authenticity.

For example, any information or news online must have been transmitted through several sources, phones tablets, applications etc.  The probability is thus very high that the time it got to you, it must have made several cycles and transfers loops. Thus the creator or originator may not be the source of transmission at the time you got it. Hence, for news that its validity depends on who said it or proclaimed it, the risks of accepting it becomes high.

The content also of online news are susceptible to transformation and modifications as they pass through transmission process. Hence the integrity of the online and social media news needs verification.

Ways to verify social media news:

1.     Use of Technology: Today, there exist some social media tools that can be routinely used in an attempt to verify social media information. These tools have the capacity to identify sources of information at least from the context of appliances used, time of share and possible location of share.

Scrutinizing content using formats readers and file readers. For example, an image can be verified using exif data. Exif data is the detail information about any image, audio or video files. A picture taken with a smartphone or with a digital camera, usually do stores a lot of extra information about the picture called metadata. This is called EXIF data and it can reveal information about what camera model took the picture, the date and time, the lens, the shutter and exposure settings, the location, and lots more.

There are a lot of Exif data file viewer software. Today, it possible to simply use a free online tool to view all the Exif data for a photo.

Again, Google Maps technology can be employed to a certain extent in verifying social media information. The location of the news source can be traced via google map. Verification can be achieved by combination of matching the background terrain or landmarks of where a source says an image was taken with comparable images and data on Google Maps.

2.    Use of Psychology: Here, rationale thinking is needed to make certain judgements. For example, most fake news sources do not bother to ensure there are no grammatical errors in the message! Thus, when you need to correct wordings or spellings or grammar in a news before forwarding, then it is likely that the source is fake.

Inconsistency in content is also proof to verify if the social media news is fake or genuine.

3.    Personality or identity verification. The quoted source of the information can be subjected to identity verification. This involves verifying the individual's personal lifestyle, taste, inclination, affiliations, concept beliefs, social media contacts and friends, social media community, history of social media posts and comments etc.  If the news emanated from a website. Verifying the ownership of the website is recommended. It will reveal the personality of the source behind the news. Personal details of website owners or domain name owners can be obtain at whois.com

Private media houses such as television, radio houses, newspapers Houses, magazines firms etc. may not have the reach to probe private details of someone suspected of being a source of a news or information in circulation. However, governments through relevant agencies can enforce actions at verifying suspected hand behind social media news. This is a reliable and sometimes very efficient way of verification of social media news.  

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