Source Verification Standards

You are only as trustworthy as your sources. To ensure that your work is perceived as trustworthy, adhere to the best practices for source verification outlined below.

Making Your Content Verifiable

Online, it can be difficult to verify whether someone is telling the truth. The following methods make it easier for casual readers and members of the press to verify that your content is legitimate.

Content you publish should be:

Paired with a consistent, easily-replicable means of contacting you

  • If the content is intended for casual online audiences, a contact page, access to a social media profile, or comment functionality is sufficient
  • If the content is intended for use by mainstream media outlets, an email address, contact form, phone number, Skype handle, or link to a personal (and regularly-checked) Facebook account would be ideal

Presented within a channel that is consistent and trustworthy

  • Examples include a Facebook page, blog, personal website, or Twitter feed that presents context, demonstrates consistent behavior, and provides contact information

(If reporting on current events) given as much context as possible

  • Use physical signs/notes in images and video to verify the real date
  • Narrate video or audio as you record it to present context (this proves that you were really recording on the date you claim to have recorded something)
  • Provide companion media featuring more information and context, including links to additional sources through which the content in question can be verified (e.g. Google Maps locations, local news reports, etc.)

Verifying Others’ Content Before Using it in Your Work

When reporting on or referring to external content and sources that are not established and trustworthy (i.e. major news sites and trusted institutions) utilize the following process:

Ensure that the content in question is the earliest example that has been shared online

  • If it is not, make an effort to find the original source or earliest example of the content

Check the background of the original content owner

  • Check any social media accounts or websites matching the content creator’s name (or email, if known)
  • Look for consistent content and personal details across platforms
  • Consider the age of the accounts (were they created just days ago?)
  • Observe the nature of the source’s interactions and followers

Establish a direct line of contact with the owner of the content

  • Via email, phone, or other means of communication (e.g. Skype or Google Voice) that comes with a consistent username, address, or channel through which the content owner can be reached

When communicating with the owner of the content:

  • Ask the content owner to verify that he or she is the original source
  • Check whether the content owner is able to answer questions about his or her content
  • Ask for permission to use his or her content (only use publicly-posted contentIf the content such as an image or embeddable YouTube video in accordance with its license)

When reporting on a time-sensitive subject, check the time, place, and subject of content you use

Check content against other online and social data, including:

  • Similar images that have already been posted online (found through Google Advanced Image Search and TinEye)
  • Images from online maps and street views (e.g. Google Street View)
  • Location data tagged to posts and uploads (e.g. on Twitter and Facebook)
  • Equipment data (e.g. on Flickr)
  • Weather conditions at the time the content was created (checked using local weather service sites or, if the event was in the past, WolframAlpha)
  • Trending topics on social media
  • Local news reports

Analyze visual content for signs of tampering

  • Shadows and light sources must line up
  • Watch out for inconsistent patterns or signs of fuzziness
  • If the content is in another language, have a fluent speaker check it (along with any existing translation)

Name and identify your sources whenever it is feasible to do so

Do not use external original content (for the sake of providing information) if:

  • The source does not provide permission to use such content
  • The content, if meant to be reporting on real events, has been altered (e.g. changed in Photoshop or, if video or audio content, edited in such a way that may compromise its trustworthiness)
  • The source cannot be reached via phone, email, or some other consistent means of communication
  • Through direct communication, the content owner does not verify that he or she is the original source
  • The content’s surroundings do not line up with those presented in other trustworthy reports (e.g. Google Maps or photos of the area from trusted media channels)
  • There are major, unresolved discrepancies across different translations of the content
  • The content’s subject runs contrary to reports from others in the area and other major social media trends
  • The source’s social media accounts present inconsistencies that would lead a reasonable person to doubt the owner’s genuine identity; for example: the content does not match other content posted by the user over time, the location of the subject does not match the content creator’s apparent location as communicated through other posts and the creator’s profile, or the content creator’s followers and interactions lead one to doubt the genuine nature of his or her identity

Note: These standards do not apply to media from external sources meant for aesthetic improvement or entertainment purposes.

Communication of Verification Level

You may still choose to use content that cannot be completely verified, however you should explicitly state the level of verification of that content. In addition to clearly disclosing caveats, share unverified content both sparingly and carefully, as it may still be taken out of context and seen as trusted.

Communication of Corrections

Regardless of verification level, publicly correct and actively promote corrections of content that contains inaccuracies or was presented out of context.

Communicate corrections as soon as possible across every channel on which the flawed information was originally shared. Additionally contact those who clearly interacted with the flawed content through retweets, comments, likes, or other forms of traceable communication.