Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Vetting User Generated Content

Hannah Mullin

"User-generated content is defined as "any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasting, pins, digital images, video, audio files, advertisements and other forms of media that was created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media websites" (Wikipedia).

User generated content has become a serious problem for journalists. Since the widespread acceptance and use of social media, journalism has transformed tremendously. Chiefly, journalism has shifted from mainly a one way form of communication to a two way, fluid communication between journalist (or editor, publisher, etc.) and the reader. Part of this new direction of communication is user generated content, social media and the internet in general has given anyone with wifi the power to be a citizen journalist.

What does this mean for journalists?

Well it makes our job just a little bit more challenging. As "gatekeepers" of the news, it is our responsibility to inform the public with accurate information. User generate content is questionable territory for journalists due to difficulties verifying the accuracy of this content, and as "gatekeepers" verification is a very important part of our job.

However, another important aspect of journalism is staying ahead of the ball. Many media outlets have received praises for their proactive approach to tackling user generated content. Among these outlets are BBC, Poynter, the Associated Press, and CNN.

BBC has begun to inform audiences before showing user generated content that has been unable to be verified (http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/06/bbc-cautions-user-generated-content) . An excellent example of this is BBC's coverage of the Arab spring, an astonishing "74% of 171 items of the user-generated footage sample in its content analysis carried no caveats about authenticity."

As it is becoming more and more common to use UGC,  according to Silvia Costeloe, a broadcast journalist at BBC's user generated content hub, "In many instances, the first pictures these days that come out are user-generated pictures." this large influx of foreign content has led many media sources to create entire departments to the verification of user generated content, such as BBC's user generated content hub. The UGC hub sifts through the large amounts of submitted content to verify its origins and accuracy before sending to publication says Costeloe, "we go through a very vigorous verification process...the job is also about filtering the enormous amount of noise on the Internet for that one original tweet by an eyewitness."

Why go through all the trouble to verify this user generated content?

UGC does come with some baggage, however it has opened up entirely new doors for journalism. As mentioned above, nowadays anyone can be a 'journalist' (if we are using a loose sense of the word) and that has created enormous competition between citizen journalists and professionals to not only cover more information, but the most interesting developments. Unfortunately, professional journalists can't be everywhere at once, that is where user generated content benefits news outlets. Media sources can pick up on new developments by submissions from citizens or simply by trolling social media, this has opened up a much larger environment to cover.

Furthermore, UGC has narrowed down the news. Now, the public can send in or share local news that otherwise may not get covered.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Anonymous Commenting Leads to Trouble

Christina Young

Many news websites, social media outlets, forums, and other various websites have commenting sections in some type of format for users to discuss the media content they are viewing. In theory, comment sections are great because users can freely discuss their opinions in what should be a safe environment; but with the option to post anonymously, the trolls come out to play.

Some people abuse the anonymity to harass other users and/or leave viscous comments about the content or person/persons who posted it. The people trolling utilize this anonymity to cyberbully from behind their computer screens. Not only does this severely affect the people whom are being harassed, emotionally, but it also severely affects the news outlets and the readers who are searching for legitimate content.

Not all commenters have such destructive intentions; many users simply wish to seek information in comments that is relevant to the content so they can leave useful feedback. But with extensive amounts of negative comments from trolls, the comments with useful feedback become more difficult to filter through.

However, many websites, media outlets, and forums are being to take away the anonymous option. In AJR's Is Facebook the Solution to the Obnoxious Comment Plague?, Tim Ebner discusses USA Today's decision to require users who wish to comment on online stories to login into their Facebook accounts to do so. This changes the game for online commenters because they can no longer hide behind an anonymous mask. Whatever the users say can be traced right back to them.

In an email, a Gannett spokesperson stated,

"The decision to change our commenting tool was made to provide a welcoming environment that encourages high-quality and relevant contributions".

Although some users are still fussing over the new change, many feel that it will help the comment section be a friendlier zone.

Furthermore, Kevin Wallsten's and Melinda Tarsi's article It’s time to end anonymous comments sections in the Washington Post expresses,

 "anonymous commenters 'wield enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a news story' and shape their attitudes about public policy. Regardless of the specific complaint, however, opponents of anonymity believe that comments sections powerfully shape the beliefs, opinions and behaviors of those who encounter them"

With the anonymous option becoming less available, viewers may have a better chance at forming their own opinions because outrageous comments are less likely to be posted.

The Huffington Post is also one of the many news outlets to hop on the bandwagon of ending anonymous accounts on its online site. Jimmy Soni states in his article The Reason HuffPost Is Ending Anonymous Accounts,

"From its earliest days, The Huffington Post prioritized investing in its community. We wanted to create a positive environment for people to have a real conversation with each other".
Rather than letting trolls harass other online users or online content, websites are taking the stance to ride themselves of the anonymous Negative Nancy's to help produce a more conducive environment for legitimate decision and conversations on the web. I am 100% supportive of this movement and I believe that it will bring a massive positive change to the online world.

Mona Lisa holds a tabby and a child cries over Santa's grave: the bizarre magic of photo shop and why it doesn't belong in journalism

Kelli Wanamaker

Better photoshop technology and wide-set access to this technology has made the altering of photos a problem among both journalists and pedestrians. One such recent example is a photo submitted to Poynter Online's gallery of "Awkward Tombstones." The photo shows a little boy crying in front of Santa Clause's tombstone. In his article, "Altered Photo a Reminder of Issues with User-Generated Content," Steve Meyers explains that the image of the little boy is actually a stock image that the individual pasted onto a picture of Santa's tomb.

Photo-shopped image on https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/449483
I have to point out that the image is obviously photo-shopped. The child is awkwardly pasted into the foreground and the scale of the boy doesn't match that of the tombstone.

The problem with this image is that it was submitted under the false pretext that it depicts a truthful moment: a moment that actually happened. And journalists are supposed to report moments that actually happen...

The person who submitted the photo is a pedestrian, of course. Many journalists have expressed concerns with user-generated content because of instances like these. Pedestrians who submit material to news organizations are not trained in ethical decision-making as most journalists are. In addition, these individuals' careers do not depend on conducting themselves with honesty and integrity. They don't have the repercussion of losing their whole career... so what do they really have to lose, anyway? Other than looking really stupid...

The individuals who submit user-generated content also may not understand the seriousness of tampering with a photo. I personally didn't understand the big deal with a journalist editing or tampering with a photo - as long as the alteration doesn't completely distort the story - until I began my education in the journalism school here at Scripps.

My original education is in the theatre world. A theatre artist's job is to tell a compelling story, and the integrity of an actor's work doesn't rely on objectivity or accuracy, but on imagination and originality.

The Santa tombstone picture is certainly creative.

But it's not truthful.

The theatre artist must go big or go home. In contrast, the journalist must go real or go home.

Cara Richardson, an editor for USA Today and Scripps Journalism school alum, told our Fundamentals of Online Journalism class that she stays away from numbers when Tweeting live news. Her first Tweet about the terrorist attacks in Paris didn't include the number of dead. And there's a good reason for it.

Richardson waits to put a number out there before she can verify it's accuracy. Better to broadcast the number late than to give false information to the public.

Accuracy is everything in journalism, and this rule applies to photos. In his article, "How journalists verify user-generated content, information on social media," Craig Silverman cites the AP's definition of an accurate, journalistic photo in their code of ethics: "No element should be digitally added or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by Photoshop or any other editing tool. Minor adjustments in Photoshop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction."

Journalists today aspire to a high standard of accuracy. But it wasn't always this way...

In Craig Silverman's introduction to "A New Age of Truth," Silverman shares quotes from an old journalistic handbook, in which the author, Edward L. Shuman, actually encourages aspiring journalists to make up details to create a more compelling story. In his 1894 guide Steps Into Journalism, Shuman states, "Truth in essentials, imagination in nonessentials, is considered a legitimate rule of action in every office...The paramount object is to make an interesting story."

Imaginative story-telling and altered images are a fun and worth-while means of creative expression that utilize today's technology. Check out this artist who photo-shops her fat cat into famous works of art:

But there is a time and place for creativity like this. And right now it's not in the journalism world. The only way to merge these two worlds - art and journalism - is to carefully integrate art like this into the framework of a larger journalistic piece. The journalist must introduce the art with the proper context and exercise complete transparency about the image's alteration so as not to mislead the consumer.

Check, Check Twice, and Check Again

Jasmine Lambert

Truth is tough. Sometimes it is hard to hear and sometimes it is even hard to believe. Trusting someone means you take their word for it and hope that the truth really is the truth. As journalists, truth is one of the most important ethics codes. It is a journalistic quality that is addressed in almost all of the popular codes of ethics, including SPJ, PRSSA, etc.

Society trusts journalists to present news, pictures, data, and so much more with clarity and understanding. Readers and viewers expect that the information they are receiving is truthful. One important part of ethical journalism is fact checking and verifying the information.

The first code of the SPJ ethics code is to seek the truth and report it. It also says journalists should "Verify information before releasing it." It is crucial for journalists to verify all of the information that they provide to the public.

Content provided from social media outlets or other sources require much more verification efforts. Many photographs can be photoshopped or cropped to be an unauthentic picture in order to gain more attention from viewers.

Getting user-generated content from places like Facebook and Twitter can get many journalists into trouble with the public because the information is false or misconstrued. We have all seen the corrections or updates that have to be made on news articles or online web stories. Those can occur for multiple different reasons but one of the reasons is because they have to correct false information.

As a journalist, I love the fact that we provide truth for the public and verifying all content including user-generated content is the best way to make sure of it. Journalists must check and double check all information to give their readers or viewers well-informed news.

Does anonymity take away from the conversation?

Lexus Rodgers

Recently, a few online news outlets have begun switching to a system that only allows comments under stories and articles to be made by users who have registered Facebook profiles and log on through the site. This change was made so that conversation and discussions have more value and are being spoken about by real people who want to have the conversation. When news outlets allow anonymous comments, they are opening the door to "trolls" and others who may have nothing of actual substance to add to the conversation. However, is this the best way to go about it an does taking away the anonymous option add to or take away form the quality of discussion? There are easily two answers to this question.



Yes, because as mentioned above, if you cannot be anonymous, it is more likely that people who would actually like to contribute real thoughts and opinions are going to be the forefront of the conversation. It makes sense that there would be less nonsense comments made by people who are just hiding behind their anonymous comment and may even be commenting just to push people's buttons. USA Today stated that they have had to filter and delete way less comments than before the switch and altogether the comments are of much better quality.
On the downside, obviously not everyone uses Facebook and this new system blocks out all of those people and we can't assume that people would create a Facebook account just to be able to comment on the articles. if this system is going to be a widely used thing, it should be open to many more social media platforms to try and include as many people as possible, but even then there's people who don't wish to use social media at all and they will always be blocked out. It also may hurt the news outlets as some people may see this as them giving into the internet standard and creating yet another merger with the Facebook giant.
I think the best way to have quality conversation with people who actually care, and include everyone who wants to contribute, is to be able to register as a user for the actual news sites. It seems like an obvious solution when compared to the social media problem. In the end, the system does cut down on comment "crap" but it will never be eliminated and is not inclusive. It's not a bad idea, but it definitely has more room to grow and develop.

Issues of user-generated content

Amanda Weisbrod

Source: http://blog.realmatch.com/trade-publishers/content-creation-takes-user-generated-content-leaves/
In today's online society, heavily saturated with user-generated content on countless available platforms, it's impossible to exclude the every day citizen from ongoing topics in the world, especially when many times, those topics are created by those citizens sitting behind their laptops at home.

As journalists, it has always been our job as "watchdogs" to keep the government and powerful parties in check for the well-being of the common man. Although that still holds true today, "watchdog" has a whole new meaning with concerns to the online era.

Poynter.org has an article titled How journalists verify user-generated content, information on social media that outlines this idea pretty well. Even though it is a summarized version of Nieman Reports' package about the truth of social media, it hits enough main issues to be a valuable reference.

In Poynter's article, issues such as verifying and validating user-generated content, spotting photo manipulations and the importance of contacting the source of the information are mentioned as extremely important ways to protect yourself and the news organization you work for.

As outlined in another Poynter article titled Altered Photo a Reminder of Issues with User-Generated Content, Tribune Interactive and Pointer Online published a photo showing a boy crying in front of a tombstone with the name "Santa Claus" etched on the front of it. This photo was taken from an account on Flickr, however, the user didn't even have the rights to it was a stock image—they did not create it, and even noted so in a comment below.

Sometimes the truth is difficult to find beneath photo alterations, making the validity of the source questionable, leading to possible cases of copyright infringement. However, journalists are working to use technology to their advantage to uncover the truth about user-generated content by checking timestamps on photos, scanning for alterations, and contacting sources before publishing information.

Public discussion and conversation about news articles and issues are very important to the news cycle and spreading of important information. However, when anonymous online users post nothing but racist, sexist and hurtful comments below news stories, the conversation becomes less than productive, to put it lightly. Fortunately, over the years, news outlets have changed their approaches to reader feedback to make discussion more positive and constructive for the online community.

In 2011, the American Journalism Review published an online story titled Is Facebook the Solution to the Obnoxious Comment Plague?, outlining the concerns that some news organizations had about the toxic environment of the comment section beneath their content. In order to combat this, some sites implemented a system where a person has to sign into their Facebook account before publishing a comment. For the most part, the number of comments has dwindled because of the new system, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as the nasty, negative comments are the ones that are missing.

Although this system definitely helps filter out the garbage comments, it's not foolproof—the issue lies in handing over unspecified rights to a third party social media group. Journalists have not yet created an editorial outline for this problem, but since 2011, the landscape has already changed dramatically. Now, some online news websites don't even use a comment section below their stories; they rely on comments and shares via social media websites to spark convers
ation, and generate more online traffic to their sites.

Verification, validity, authenticity and accuracy are the biggest issues with online user-generated content. And as the industry changes, journalists must now learn to not only adapt to the ever-growing industry, but with these values in mind, they must also monitor and cross-check viral information in order to bring the truth to light for their readers.

Slow Death of the Anon? Fading Anonymity in Comment Sections

Zulfa Rizqiya

As innocent as an article may be, the complementary comments section can turn the topic of an article on its head and open a can of obscene, racist, and sexist comments.  While one would hesitate to make the same comments in person, anonymity has provided a shield for offensive commenters to type away as they please.  No identity? No liability for your comments! 

In a 2011 article, the American Journalism Review posed the question, "Is Facebook the Solution to the Obnoxious Comment Plague?"  To determine Facebook as a solution to vulgar comments and "trolls," anonymous posters who comment with the intention of provoking or annoying, AJR looked into USA Today's comment system. 

Recognizing how anonymity factors into the quality of comments and typically fills the comments section with "trolls," USA Today, under parent company Gannett, decided to transition from the old anything-goes comment system to a new system that would require commenters to post using their Facebook profiles.

In an email with AJR, a Gannett spokesperson said "the decision to change our commenting tool was made to provide a welcoming environment that encourages high-quality and relevant contributions"

The logic is simple: requiring commenters to post through Facebook holds them accountable for their comments.  Because every commenter is identifiable, every comment holds representation of a real person, preventing the person from commenting solely to provoke or annoy.

According to USA Today, the results were exactly what they were hoping for.  With the new system in use, they found an increase in civility and more participation from local public figures.  In addition, on their side of the comments section, the time and energy spent moderating comments was alleviated.

For me, the new system is also a blessing: no more digging through the comments section full of trolls to find the relevant information I've been searching for.

Not everyone is in favor of the new system as I am.  Those opposed to the new system argue the omission of anonymity is unethical as it goes against the nature of Internet dialogue and how it should be able to discourse and digress.  They also believe that when a news outlet turns their comments section over to a third party social media platform like Facebook, journalistic intent such as archiving information and protecting sources gets lost.  Another argument is that anonymity allowed an open, public discussion and linking it to Facebook makes it more private and personal, leaving out the audience not present on social media.

While the arguments against the new comment system are valid, I believe providing a quality environment for discussion through the comments section trumps, especially when comment sections can become, at its worst, a place to marginalize social groups via the anonymity system.

Sadie Dupuis, the lead vocalist and guitarist for indie rock group Speedy Ortiz, took to Twitter to address the fault of this system on popular music news blog BrooklynVegan.

Via Twitter

In response to Dupuis' tweets, BrooklynVegan revealed that they, like USA Today, would transition to a new commenting system free of anonymous posters by 2016.  

Ultimately, I believe there are more merits than faults with the new comment system.  In the same way that journalists are responsible for the stories they publish, I believe commenters should be held to the same ethical expectations of being transparent and responsible for their comments.