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How to verify content from digital sources in a crisis

01 Jun, 2020 Issues and crises, PR and the internet

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

Corporate communicators and journalists can find it difficult to confirm the facts about an emergency or crisis. In these days of proliferating ‘fake news’ and wild claims made on social media, a ‘crisis’ report could merely be sensationalism or could even be completely untrue.

Often communicators need to identify the source and truth of such claims so they can understand and communicate the facts. Verifying facts before publishing a news story is one of the cornerstones of trusted behavior that we have traditionally expected from the mainstream media.

Even in the disruption of traditional sources of news over the past decade – with the rise of social media, of newer sources of news and information that compete with the traditional, of newer digital platforms from which to make news and information available, and in changing behaviors of people from purely consumers to creators (citizen journalists and the ugly-sounding ‘user-generated content‘) and questioners of the news story wherever and whenever it appears – we still largely hold the mainstream media to a higher standard with a continuing expectation that reporters and editors will get the facts right before they go to print or (more likely) publish online.

Nowhere is that more expected than in cases of disasters or tragedies. When there is so much happening so quickly, confusion and misinformation abound – mostly accidental but some deliberate – as a reporter tries to get the facts from many different places, increasingly including user-generated content in addition to traditional sources, eg, newswires and official spokespeople.

Especially at times like that, you want to be sure of what you intend to report with confidence, based on verifiable facts that others will read, see and hear. And you need to do it very quickly.

Verification Handbook

Enter the Verification Handbook, a ground-breaking new resource for journalists and aid responders which provides step-by-step guidelines for using user-generated content during emergencies, and how to verify that content and its sources.

In a crisis situation, social networks are overloaded with situational updates, calls for relief, reports of new developments, and rescue information. Reporting the right information is often critical in shaping responses from the public and relief workers; it can literally be a matter of life or death.

This free handbook (you can also buy a paperback version) prescribes best practice advice on how to verify and use this information provided by the crowd, as well as actionable advice to facilitate disaster preparedness in newsrooms.

The Handbook is divided into the following chapters:

  1. When Emergency News Breaks
  2. Verification Fundamentals: Rules to Live By
  3. Verifying User-Generated Content
  4. Verifying Images
  5. Verifying Video
  6. Putting the Human Crowd to Work
  7. Adding the Computer Crowd to the Human Crowd
  8. Preparing for Disaster Coverage
  9. Creating a Verification Process and Checklist(s)
  10. Verification Tools

There are also a number of cases studies.

Publisher The European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, The Netherlands, says it’s the first-ever guide for reporters and editors who use user-generated content during humanitarian emergencies. It includes contributions by some credible and trusted names from across the world.

While it primarily targets journalists and aid providers, the handbook can be used by anyone. Its advice and guidance are valuable whether you are a news journalist, citizen reporter, relief responder, volunteer, journalism school student, emergency communication specialist, or an academic researching social media.

If you publish anything professionally online, whatever your role, journalist or not, on which you have based your content on that of others, you will find the Verification Handbook worth bookmarking.

The guide is available as a free PDF from the Verification Handbook website, and in print, as well as a Kindle version for Amazon’s ebook reader.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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