Twitter is the king of real time news, but people’s eagerness to retweet juicy stories sometimes outweighs their willingness to verify the facts first, leading them to parrot misinformation. That’s why the most intersting thing about Facebook’s partnership with Storyful to create a Newswire isn’t about refferal traffic or helping journalists find things to cover. It’s that putting Storyful’s news verification process in the spotlight could make the Internet more trustworthy.
The fundamental problem is that people love being the first on their block to share a big news story. Whether it’s a natural disaster, celebrity death, geopolitical crisis, or a manhunt, we crave to be seen as having our fingers on the pulse of the world. The allure of hundreds of likes or retweets can cloud our bullshit detectors. And so we blindly share.
There are plenty of examples of how falsehoods spiral out of control on social media, as Storyful lays out. “Within an hour of the Pacific tsunami alert being issued on April 11, 2012, Twitter and YouTube abounded with videos purporting to show monster waves striking the coast of Sumatra and Aceh in Indonesia. However, these were versions of the devastating 2004 tsunami and other dramatic videos, reissued with the 2012 date. In December 2011, when a police officer was killed at Virginia Tech in the US, a picture of the 2007 massacre was widely circulated as the 2011 event.”
Luckily, Storyful has developed a news verification technology and process that can distinguish between real and fake news. It digs to identify the original source of the news, and then reviews the content and collects evidence to determine its trustworthy. Factors it looks at include:
- Are the source’s accounts registered near where the news occured?
- How long have the accounts existed?
- Does WHOIS information on affiliated websites match the sources name?
- Does their social graph indicate the source had access to the news?
- Do the source’s other online presences contain clues that support the content’s authenticity?
- Has the source scraped or falsified content in the past, or been citable by reputable outlets?
- Can the content’s location be verified through landmarks, or topographical details, and does it match maps of the area?
- Do weather and lighting conditions match where and when the content was supposedly produced?
- Can the source be reached directly for confirmation?
Until now, this technology was only available through paid licenses to newsrooms. Bloggers on a budget and the general public didn’t have access. But now, Storyful is powering the Newswire Facebook launched today. There are issues with the idea that Facebook Newswire’s editors will have control of what’s important enough to verify or debunk. Even if limited, though, it provides real-time stream of news content from verified primary sources.
For example, Storyful helped verify a photo of a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier firing on alleged terrorists, shots of a “Crabster” underwater robot being tested before its recovery mission for the capscized South Korean ferry, an image of Turkish troops entering Syria, and an outer space selfie taken by an astronaut. All of these were taken by local journalists and other primary sources, and any of them could have been faked. Thanks to Storyful’s verification technology, journalists could cover these news items with confidence.
Newswire is also publishing a #DailyDebunk post that outs an erroneous story. For example, a video of an avalanche supposedly from Everest this month was revealed to be from 2011.
The terms of Facebook’s partnership with Storyful, which was recently acquired by News Corp, haven’t been disclosed. It’s likely, though, that through data, cash, or exposure, Facebook is effectively compensating Storyful to open a free stream of verified stories to journalists. But the potential for this partnership could go much further.
Facebook Newswire could become social version of Snopes, where anyone can go to check whether urban myths and news stories are believed to be real or fake. Facebook could even go a step further, potentially appending a link to Newswire or a warning if it sees people sharing posts that Storyful has assessed to be fake. By creating a resource that promotes truth in the news, the two companies could debunk false stories and reduce their spread across the Interner. Because if fewer false stories proliferate on Facebook, they’ll inspire fewer erroneous news articles, blog posts, and tweets.
The web gave us a way to share news faster than we could fact-check it. Storyful’s technology could bring distribution and verification back into balance to create a more truthful Internet.