Verification takes center stage

“The misinformation ecosystem is much more nuanced than simply fake news.”

Skills in social media verification will become a priority for newsroom hires in 2017.

claire-wardle-2-300x300Two years ago, for a research project I was working on, I talked to journalists about the ways user-generated content was handled in their newsrooms. During one interview, an editor actually recreated the groan that went around the news meetings whenever she brought up the “v-word.” She was talking about verification. As we stumble towards the end of 2016, with everyone obsessing over misinformation, I don’t think you’d find any newsroom referring to verification in this way. I would hope not, anyway.

I predict newsrooms will make social discovery and verification skills something they specifically seek in new hires in 2017. This is not the time to be fooled by a photoshopped image, mistaken when a video emerges with fake BBC branding, or crediting the wrong person on screen because an image emerged on Twitter when it actually originated in a WhatsApp group and was captured by someone completely different.

We will start to see a more nuanced understanding of the misinformation ecosystem.

The misinformation ecosystem is much more nuanced than simply fake news. Over the weekend, I saw the inevitable backlash against the term “fake news.” But as Alexios Mantzarlis of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network pointed out on Twitter: “the fact that so many are misusing the term ‘fake news’ doesn’t mean it’s not a thing at all.” We need to agree a taxonomy to explain the complexities of the misinformation ecosystem. Until we do that, our attempts at finding solutions are becoming circular.

As I explained in a recent piece for CJR, during this U.S. election I counted six different, but specific types of misinformation, from “real” content used in the wrong context, to photoshopped images, to video content using branding from mainstream media, to parody content. The full spectrum of misinformation is much broader and I predict we’ll see work to create a definitive typology so we can have a shared understanding of what we mean when we use different terms.

We will see more collaborative verification projects.

Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat has already shown what is possible when social discovery and verification techniques are applied on long-form investigative questions. The work of Eliot and his team to investigate the downing of flight MH17 using clues that emerged on social media demonstrated what is possible.

ProPublica’s Electionland project, an initiative with which First Draft was directly involved, also demonstrated what is possible. With an army of 660 students at 14 journalism schools, all trained in social verification techniques, we were able to find and corroborate over 1,000 reports which emerged on social media during election day.

We hope to use similar methodologies to monitor the French election in the runup to the April polling day, and are in the planning stages of a project to map hate crimes in the U.S. and to monitor the German election as well.

The development of a visual grammar to help flag and provide context for people on social platforms.

We often take the blue verification tick for granted, but one day it became the way we judged the quality of an account across different social networks. It’s an example of an accepted visual grammar. As the arguments swirl about fake news and the misinformation ecosystem, and as social networks push back on the idea that they will ever be the arbiters of truth, the inevitable next step, I hope, is that we will see visual cues on content that will allow users to navigate the content they discover via the social web themselves. These visual cues would allow a new level of transparency around content: for example, allowing users to judge how long a piece of content has been circulating; allowing users to see whether the content was shared by someone who has previously had content flagged on a social network; or at the most basic, allowing users to see when was the content first created — for example, when the domain was registered.

My hope is that these new visual cues are created collaboratively, with designers from all the social networks taking advice from social psychologists on the most effective standardised visual flags. As Chris Blow from Meedan argues, we need to think about positive visual cues, rather than simply negative red “debunked” or “fake” stamps on images.

News organizations add a “debunking” editor during breaking news events.

Just after the Paris attacks of November 2015, I wrote a post expressing dismay that while news organizations often published roundup listicles after breaking news events (e.g. “5 hoaxes you shouldn’t have fallen for during the Paris attacks”), this type of work was not being undertaken in realtime on the social platforms themselves. Comments in response to the post pointed me to some of the amazing work happening in France around realtime debunking. If you haven’t seen it (and can speak French!) I would really recommend taking a look at Les Decodeurs, the Verifie Twitter account from Buzzfeed France, and the Instant Redux TV segment on France Info.

BuzzFeed in the U.S. followed this model during the U.S. election, often sharing realtime debunks. During the first debate, when Donald Trump denied that he’d ever said that global warming was created by the Chinese, a photoshopped tweet started doing the rounds saying that the Trump team had deleted a tweet that said exactly that from 2012. That assertion was false and BuzzFeed quickly debunked it on Twitter before the debate had ended.

A question remains whether newsrooms should debunk information on the social web. If they don’t do it for all information, audiences might conclude that something is true if they don’t see the debunk. However, I would argue that during a breaking news story, newsrooms should collaborate around the hoaxes that always do the rounds, whether it’s the pictures of comedian Sam Hyde popping up after active shooting situations, old imagery re-circulating after natural disasters, or people falsely claiming to be victims of an attack looking for media attention. My hope for 2017 is that newsrooms will start to collaborate in realtime on debunking efforts, which will save precious time and resources and free up journalists to guide audiences through the torrent of misinformation that emerges when a news event breaks.

Claire Wardle is former research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, now working at First Draft.

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

AX Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Trushar Barot   API or die

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Richard Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved