July 3, 2014

As far as I can tell, these photos of lightning hitting New York Wednesday night are legit.

But as the U.S. hurricane season begins this weekend with Arthur’s approach, it’s a good time to remember that hoaxers, as Craig Silverman wrote during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, “love nothing more than getting the press to share their handiwork.”

Often, a reverse image search can help you root out bogus pictures. In a chapter in the Silverman-edited Verification Handbook, BBC editor Trushar Barot shared his organization’s four-step process for verifying user-generated content:

  1. Establish the author/originator of the image.
  2. Corroborate the location, date and approximate time the image was taken.
  3. Confirm the image is what it is labeled/suggested to be showing.
  4. Obtain permission from the author/originator to use the image.

One case study in the book looks at photos from Sandy that purported to show sharks swimming in a New Jersey street. Tom Phillips, now with BuzzFeed, shows how he and Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal tried to verify the images.

“Especially in rapidly developing situations, verification is often less about absolute certainty, and more about judging the level of acceptable plausibility,” Phillips writes. “Be open about your uncertainties, show your work, and make it clear to the reader your estimate of error when you make a call on an image.”

Related training: Getting It Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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