Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » What are best practices for verifying tips from social media?

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Good reporting is the same, regardless of the platform -- at least that's the premise of the proposal before our ethics board.

At our monthly meeting Tuesday, our board will discuss guidelines for verifying information obtained via social media. Many news organizations are wrestling with this question in the digital age when anyone can publish information. Our work is part of the Associated Press Media Editors' Online Journalism Credibility Project.

In days gone by, journalists had the luxury of a little more time to sort through tips we received from the public. With Twitter, Facebook and other social media, the information can be presented to reporters and the public at the same time.

In an online survey and subsequent community forum, we asked readers about their expectations for verifying the news. People told us they still look to the newspaper and its website to be more credible than what they might read on a friend's Facebook page. At the same time, they expect us to get the news to them faster than ever -- no waiting for the next morning's edition, thank you very much.

The proposal (based on an excellent presentation by Craig Silverman and Mandy Jenkins) before our board reminds us of the best practices we follow when verifying all reader tips, not just those that come to us via social media. The same rules apply:

1. Check the tipster's credibility. (We must do this with social media just as we do with traditional reporting.)

a) Do we know the source? Any hidden agendas?

b) Always assume info is not credible until you've verified it.

2. Follow up on the tip.

a) Get the person's phone number and call.

b) Ask if they witnesses firsthand or heard about it from another source.

c) Ask exactly what they witnessed, how they saw it and when.

d) Ask who else may have the same info.

3) Check the credibility of the info.

a) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be skeptical.

4) Corroborate the story.

a) Seek other ways to independently verify.

b) Discuss reporting with an editor.

5) Evaluate your options.

a) How urgent is the information?

b) How important is the tip? Is there a story without it?

c) Is it worth the risk if it is wrong?

6) Be transparent.

a) Provide sources for our information.

b) Tell the audience what we don't know.

Any other suggestions for our guidelines? Should we be more or less detailed? This is meant to be fairly broad and to emphasize the best practices of reporting.

Here is some related reading material you may find useful as you consider the subject:

-- How to verify – and when to publish – news accounts posted on social media

-- How to publish credible information online while news is breaking

-- Best Practices for Social Media Verification

-- How to Verify Social Media Content: Some Tips and Tricks on Information Forensics