Checkdesk Checklist #4
Earthquake rumors debunked, metadata 101, and finding sources via Twitter, and more
The Checklist is a weekly newsletter of links, case studies and research around verification and user-generated content, brought to you by the Checkdesk team. Sign up to have your own free copy delivered direct to your inbox every Tuesday.
Earlier this year, Michael Paulson, a New York Times reporter who covered religion, emailed me with an idea and a question. There had been a rising number of reports of conflicts on airplanes in which Hasidic Jewish men were seeking to avoid being seated next to women other than their wives. He was aware of incidents on four flights between the U.S. and Israel, and was wondering if we could use Twitter to find passengers on those flights, as well as other flights on which similar conflicts might have taken place. […] I was able to quickly find 13 possible sources for Michael […] All five passengers quoted in the story were found with Twitter searches. Here’s how we did it.
One of the research projects API has already conducted revolves around the dangers of social media. According to Elizabeth, the group found that “political misinformation on Twitter outnumbers the people trying to fight the misinformation 2.7 to 1.” In other words, nearly three in every four falsehoods tweeted out go uncorrected.
The rumor began with a fever. On March 4th, in a public school in rural northern Liberia on the border with Guinea, a child was diagnosed with a high fever. Following protocol in a region where Ebola cases remain a concern, the school called an ambulance to take the child for treatment. But when the ambulance arrived, students began to panic and flee the campus. Parents began to frantically connect by phone and a rumor quickly spread to the larger town of Sanniquellie, 35 km to the south. The rumor? “People are vaccinating children in schools and the vaccinated children are then taken by ambulance and hospitalized.”
Most of the hoaxes we deal with are relatively easy to debunk; a simple Google reverse image search, for example, helped us to debunk many of the recent fake total eclipse images, and simply searching through Storyful’s extensive archive of content allowed us to establish that a much-shared video described as showing the Germanwings A320 crash was in fact captured at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in 2013. However, sometimes the fakery requires us to give a more in-depth look at the content…
One of the easiest and most useful methods for an open source analyst is to extract metadata from imagery. Metadata is data that is often included with an image, such as the time it was taken, the type of camera that was used, and yes, if you are lucky — GPS coordinates. This data is useful for photographers, those who like to stalk cats, and people like us: geolocators and myth-busters.
Detailed report (in Arabic) on how fact verification of a UNICEF report into violence against children led to UNICEF issuing a formal apology over incorrect figures and indicators. Great example of high impact verification and fact-checking.