You’re a journalist covering the conflict in Syria. You spot a photo trending on social media. What do you do? You have to establish how credible the image is. Here’s where Checkdesk comes in. It gives you a predefined list of operations from the Verification Handbook to help you verify the photo, available on the same page with a single click. For example:
- Reveal the image EXIF data using FotoForensics.com
- View satellite imagery of the photo’s geolocation so you can identify landmarks
- Cross reference photo location, time and date with weather information using Wolfram Alpha
With these steps conducted, you feel more confident to report the photo accurately. You can share out a link or embed the photo on a blog. And with Checkdesk, you can also share the verification steps you took: our embed feature contains the results of the verification operations alongside the source content just like the health warning that accompanies an AP video script.
What makes Checkdesk really powerful is that the checklists are customizable and shareable. We have checklists for videos and checklists for tweets, each with different strategies for verification. As new tools and platforms emerge, you can create and share out your own checklists - or adopt them from others. Why not collaborate to find the perfect formula?
Checkdesk then is so much more than a static feature set, it is an open framework of ‘integrations’ with 3rd party services. Think of the long arc as like an app store for verification. Developers with a journalistic mind can find their own ingenious ways to exploit third party tools and build new integrations that you can add to your verification checklists. For example, there is huge potential for collaboration with other tools such as Cryptocat (for end-to-end encrypted communication between journalists and media sources), Rbutr (to cross-reference any other work done to highlight media as misinformation), Alghayma (to archive citizen media and protect it from deletion) and Storyful’s Multisearch (for cross-social search). Further integrations could enable translation of key content or consistency checking of urls over time.
What we propose is not a silver bullet for verifying digital media, but a more structured, easy-to-use and expandable toolkit that makes it easier for you, the journalist, to use the best techniques already out there.
Our project aims to add value to journalists by providing robust workflow tools based on best practices outlined in the Verification Handbook and checklist efficacy research conducted by Peter Pronovost. We aim to add value to media consumers by adding key information to the citizen and social media they consume such as the extent to which media has been verified. The need for this is highlighted in the BBC Trust report on BBC coverage of the Arab Spring and in an upcoming Tow Center report on User Generated Content in Broadcast Journalism.
One example of when Checkdesk may have spared a major news organization’s blushes and avoided confusion for readers is the BBC’s misuse of a photo originally taken in Iraq to illustrate a story about a purported massacre in Ghouta, Syria. Checkdesk could have walked BBC journalists through a checklist of verification techniques such as reverse image search that would have shown the image’s original source and ensured it wasn’t misused to show another highly emotive and contentious event.
- That social and citizen media already are important sources for news publishers covering breaking news stories, and their importance will continue to grow with the widespread use of camera-enabled mobile phones and wireless networks.
- That as the above happens, there will also be an increased risk of unintentional misinformation and intentional disinformation spreading rapidly via social and traditional media (see Gupta et al.)
- That embedded checklists with 3rd party integrations will help balance the needs of newsrooms to provide rapid responses to ongoing news developments and media sent in by citizen journalists and anyone using social media with the important needs of newsrooms to maintain accuracy. These checklists will help embed the fact checking process within journalists’ regular process and facilitate rapid verification steps such as revealing EXIF data, checking the weather, and others.
In contributing to and translating the Verification Handbook we have established a strong relationship with Poynters and the European Center for Journalism. All of the above have validated the need for better tools and training resources for digital journalists working with citizen and social sources, and we are confident that — with Knight support to develop the toolkit — several of the aforementioned would use and advocate for the use of Checkdesk. One opportunity that is of particular interest is working with journalism schools. As our experience working with Birmingham City University has demonstrated, the next generation of journalists will need strong digital media literacy to succeed in the workplace. Checkdesk can provide a safe and instructive context for training verification techniques.
By embedding checklists for important verification actions, we aim to improve accuracy while also helping journalists meet deadlines in a timely fashion. Importantly, our goal is to make these actions easy to carry out. The aim of the checklists is to encourage integrations that facilitate rapid execution of verification steps. For instance, when determining the veracity of a photo posted on a certain date, journalists can use our checklist to quickly check the weather for that day at that location. To the greatest extent possible, we aim to reduce the number of manual actions a journalist must take to verify a report.
Another important obstacle will be technical implementation. We anticipate two important technical challenges: security and third party integrations. With existing implementations of Checkdesk, we have faced problems w DDOS attacks and spam bots. Historically, we have addressed those with known security filters, such as Captcha, HoneyPot and Cloudflare. We also anticipate exploring other security programs like Google's Project Shield, but we will need to address each partner’s needs on a case by case basis. We will also need to explore third party integrations, which will vary depending on the different types of source content. Some integrations will allow for API level integrations, others may require more creative technical solutions, and others may require walking journalists through more manual steps.
Checkdesk’s checklist provides ready-to-go steps that a journalist can take to verify some of that content and powerful integrations to perform and record those steps quickly. The software provides tools that can quickly help analyze social content and give that content a clearly-marked and evolving verification status. Readers and journalists alike would see content from social media that is clearly marked as “Verification in progress” accompanied by the various steps that newsrooms have taken to verify the content, and which updates dynamically to show the latest information available.