The dangers of crowdsourcing: Interview with Scoopshot

By Chris Lee

The Guardian newspaper has launched its Witness user-generated content (UGC) programme, a resource where people can upload their own images and video content from news events to help “shape” the news agenda. Media companies are increasingly seeing the value of publishing user-generated content to create engaging stories that readers cannot access anywhere else, according to the global crowdsourcing service, Scoopshoot.

Research conducted by WAN-IFRA in cooperation with Scoopshot recently found that the media’s appetite for UGC is growing, with 80 per cent of newspaper editors worldwide regularly using UGC and 76 per cent planning to make greater use of it.

Keeping it real

But with the widespread use of UGC comes the challenge of authenticity, with fake and edited photos and video being shared on social networks or sent in to the media regularly. As a result, many journalists are finding it difficult to verify whether photos are genuine in the era of “citizen journalism”. With journalists up against the time pressures of online news reporting, media companies must be able to decide whether photos and videos are authentic quickly and efficiently, according to Scoopshoot’s president and COO, Petri Rahja.

“Until quite recently, verifying the authenticity of photos and video was straightforward. Photos were provided by professional photographers or photo agencies trusted by the media,” he explained. “However, in an age of UGC and photo editing software, more sophisticated verification is needed, especially when examining photos supplied by ‘citizen photographers’.” On average, Rahja argues verification takes 30-60 minutes but more in-depth tests can take several hours.

Journalists typically check file data to verify the time, date and location and analyse visual content for signs of tampering, such as fuzziness or lighting and shadows in the wrong place. However, even with these checks in place, the authenticity of UGC is not guaranteed. As a result, fake or edited photos and video can slip through the net but by controlling the environment where the photo is captured, media can be sure that a photo is genuine.

This rules out any possibility of tampering to the photo or video, or to the file’s metadata. “While manual verification of content will always play a crucial role in the authentication of UGC, many modern media companies have realised that they cannot rely on manual checks alone due to the sheer volume of content and the increasingly sophisticated nature of hoax UGC,” Rahja told NMK.

Proving authenticity

To aid UGC verification, Rahja said Scoopshot has developed a patent-pending technology that analyses all photos and video submitted by its global network of more than 250,000 mobile photographers. The verification process displays each uploaded image with a graphical tag depicting the authenticity score based on key authentication factors. Photos can only achieve a top authenticity score if they are taken using Scoopshot’s mobile app as this ensures that they have not been tampered with in any way.

This provides media with a quick, easy and effective way to authenticate UGC. The system basically substitutes an inherently flawed manual process with a highly-automated, intelligent programme that he said takes seconds. “While time is of the essence – if journalists take too long to verify content, other publications could get the story out first – it’s just as important that content is verified properly, as if edited content slips through the net it can damage a media’s reputation as a credible news source, potentially driving readers elsewhere,” Rahja concluded.

“With many publications now receiving thousands of photos each day and tens of thousands of newsworthy photos and videos being shared on social networks, it is imperative that media companies have strategies in place to verify UGC quickly and efficiently.”

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