Tag Archives: Journalism

Rapidly Verifying the Credibility of Information Sources on Twitter

One of the advantages of working at QCRI is that I’m regularly exposed to peer-reviewed papers presented at top computing conferences. This is how I came across an initiative called “Seriously Rapid Source Review” or SRSR. As many iRevolution readers know, I’m very interested in information forensics as applied to crisis situations. So SRSR certainly caught my attention.

The team behind SRSR took a human centered design approach in order to integrate journalistic practices within the platform. There are four features worth noting in this respect. The first feature to note in the figure below is the automated filter function, which allows one to view tweets generated by “Ordinary People,” “Journalists/Bloggers,” “Organizations,” “Eyewitnesses” and “Uncategorized.” The second feature, Location, “shows a set of pie charts indica-ting the top three locations where the user’s Twitter contacts are located. This cue provides more location information and indicates whether the source has a ‘tie’ or other personal interest in the location of the event, an aspect of sourcing exposed through our preliminary interviews and suggested by related work.”

The third feature worth noting is the “Eyewitness” icon. The SRSR team developed the first ever automatic classifier to identify eyewitness reports shared on Twitter. My team and I at QCRI are developing a second one that focuses specifically on automatically classifying eyewitness reports during sudden-onset natural disasters. The fourth feature is “Entities,” which displays the top five entities that the user has mentioned in their tweet history. These include references to organizations, people and places, which can reveal important patterns about the twitter user in question.

Journalists participating in this applied research found the “Location” feature particularly important when assess the credibility of users on Twitter. They noted that “sources that had friends in the location of the event were more believable, indicating that showing friends’ locations can be an indicator of credibility.” One journalist shared the following: “I think if it’s someone without any friends in the region that they’re tweeting about then that’s not nearly as authoritative, whereas if I find somebody who has 50% of friends are in [the disaster area], I would immediately look at that.”

In addition, the automatic identification of “eyewitnesses” was deemed essential by journalists who participated in the SRSR study. This should not be surprising since “news organizations often use eyewitnesses to add credibility to reports by virtue of the correspondent’s on-site proximity to the event.” Indeed, “Witness-ing and reporting on what the journalist had witnessed have long been seen as quintessential acts of journalism.” To this end, “social media provides a platform where once passive witnesses can become active and share their eyewitness testimony with the world, including with journalists who may choose to amplify their report.”

In sum, SRSR could be used to accelerate the verification of social media con-tent, i.e., go beyond source verification alone. For more on SRSR, please see this computing paper (PDF), which was authored by Nicholas Diakopoulos, Munmun De Choudhury and Mor Naaman.

Accelerating the Verification of Social Media Content

Journalists have already been developing a multitude of tactics to verify user-generated content shared on social media. As noted here, the BBC has a dedicated User-Generated Content (UGC) Hub that is tasked with verifying social media information. The UK Guardian, Al-Jazeera, CNN and others are also developing competency in what I refer to as “information forensics”. It turns out there are many tactics that can be used to try and verify social media content. Indeed, applying most of these existing tactics can be highly time consuming.

So building a decision-tree that combines these tactics is the way to go. But doing digital detective work online is still a time-intensive effort. Numerous pieces of digital evidence need to be collected in order to triangulate and ascertain the veracity of just one given report. We therefore need tools that can accelerate the processing of a verification decision-tree. To be sure, information is the most perishable commodity in a crisis—for both journalists and humanitarian pro-fessionals. This means that after a certain period of time, it no longer matters whether a report has been verified or not because the news cycle or crisis has unfolded further since.

This is why I’m a fan of tools like Rapportive. The point is to have the decision-tree not only serve as an instruction-set on what types of evidence to collect but to actually have a platform that collects that information. There are two general strategies that could be employed to accelerate and scale the verification process. One is to split the tasks listed in the decision-tree into individual micro-tasks that can be distributed and independently completed using crowdsourcing. A second strategy is to develop automated ways to collect the evidence.

Of course, both strategies could also be combined. Indeed, some tasks are far better suited for automation while others can only be carried about by humans. In sum, the idea here is to save journalists and humanitarians time by considerably reducing the time it takes to verify user-generated content posted on social media. I am also particularly interested in gamification approaches to solve major challenges, like the Protein Fold It game. So if you know of any projects seeking to solve the verification challenge described above in novel ways, I’d be very grateful for your input in the comments section below. Thank you!