In late 2018, in the context of Deutsche Welle’s various verification projects and activities, I talked to Dhruti Shah of the BBC’s User Generated Content and Social Media Hub. Originally intended for internal purposes only and to canvass views of experts in the industry, I decided to make the interview public here and now – of course, having obtained consent by Dhruti beforehand. Here’s what Dhruti Shah, a highly experienced journalist and expert in dealing with eyewitness media and digital (user-generated) content had to say, focusing on the verification of video content.
Jochen Spangenberg (JS): What are, in your view, the biggest challenges when it comes to the verification of video, primarily video from unknown sources, such as eyewitness media or user-generated content?
Dhruti Shah (DS): Video is incredibly important in this visual world where documentation often relies on footage being filmed and used for cross-reference. However, dark social shares are a challenge as often Exif data is stripped away. Also, we’re in a world where AI is rearing its head and with tech savvy creators, will very quickly ripple out of educational spheres into generic every day use… how layered is that video that we’re watching? Deep fake videos are going to be an issue. How do you tackle those challenges unless you are at the vanguard?
JS: What are, in your view, the biggest obstacles when it comes the verification of video (primarily video from unknown sources, such as eyewitness media, user-generated content etc.)?
DS: Videos that have been shared considerably especially on dark social – because it’s harder to track down origin initially – they become incredibly resource heavy. Pranksters are also a problem – people doing it because they think creating fake news origin videos are funny – it would be so much easier if there was a labelling system or a key database all those working in the verification field contributed to. And of course, propogandists make life a lot harder. We’re also firefighting in times where tech makes it easy to create ‘fake’ videos.
JS: What, in your opinion, are the most useful tools or platforms for the verification of user-generated video?
DS: Collaborative, open source journalism and using trusted networks is key. So are guides such as those offered by Bellingcat, or tutorials / checklists provided by First Draft News. Then, there are tools such as the YouTube Data viewer by Amnesty International, and the InVID browser extension or RevEye. Of course, Google Street View is also very helpful. And there are sites and resources such as Snopes. And not to forget: experience – a journalist’s knack is also of great value, as is experience built up in a trusted team (my own example is the BBC’s User Generated Content Hub).
JS: What keeps you awake at night and worries you in the context of verification of user-generated video?
DS: Deep fakes. The fact we debunk but people will share and believe what they want to believe anyway.
JS: If you could have a wish – or a whole wish list – of things you would like fulfilled in the context of verification of user-generated video, what would be on that list? And why?
DS: A database where EVERYBODY involved in debunking would list that which has already been debunked (or maybe even a hashtag / tag that all used but not ‘fake news’ as that just isn’t appropriate in this day and age).
JS: What are the differences in the verification of user-generated video between work as a journalist to somebody working in the human rights sector?
DS: I think working as a journalist, your ultimate aim is to find out what happened – you should arrive with no fixed narrative in mind that you are working towards other than what evidence stacks up, and then build the picture. I think those within the human rights sector come with more contextual history first and will be deconstructing from the campaign end, working backwards.
JS: Thank you very much!
Related articles that may be of interest:
How to make the most of user-generated content (UGC). Video with Trushar Barot, then assistant editor of the User-Generated Content Hub. BBC Academy, 5 April 2017.
User-generated content and the UGC hub. Including video with BBC Academy trainer Cath Addis. BBC Academy, 5 April 2017.
Dhruti Shah: Sourcing stories on social media. Slideshare presentation dated 20 July 2015.
Author: Jochen Spangenberg
Date of publication / Last updated: 4 July 2019 / 5 July 2019