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.

What's yours is yours

Wynston Wilcox

It's called User Generated Content for a reason: you generated it.

If you modify it, that does not justify generating it, it simply says you modified it. As journalists, our job is to tell the truth. Modifying something and claiming it yours is not telling the truth, that's called plagiarism.

In an article from Poynter, it explains that the grey area between what's considered your's and not is very thin.

The example the article uses is in terms of Flickr and how just because you share it doesn't make it yours. The photo is only yours if you took it: plain and simple.

It is called USER generated for a reason. Just because you posted it, doesn't make it yours.

In school, anytime we doing an assignment, we are told to not plagiarize. Anytime we quote or use something that isn't our own, we are told to credit it to the original source. Nothing changes with pictures.

If you didn't take the picture, it's not yours; it can't be anymore clear than that.


In another article on Poynter, there was a line that said to check the source just as much as the information.

That line couldn't be anymore perfect for UGC.

As journalists, we don't go with the first source we hear from, we confirm through multiple sources and the same goes for videos and pictures, though they may be hard to trace.

Journalist have to be careful about not crossing the line of UGC. The most important thing to do is confirm where the photo came from. I watch anything that I ever pull and and direct tweet. Most times, I quote tweet things with make me less liable about proving where I found the content.

Wynston's Twitter Acount

Quote tweeting is the best thing Twitter has in my opinion because it cuts the thin line of whether you produced the content or not because someone can clearly see when you didn't come up with something.

The example that was brought up in class today was that a picture of a tornado continues to pop up whenever there is a tornado and whoever posts first says it was their picture.

Why? For the 15 seconds of fame? Not worth it.

That 15 seconds of fame could get you 15 months in jail for infringing copyright.

So I say all of this to say that when you share things, that doesn't make it yours. It just means you shared it. Now if you took the photo and then shared it, then yes it is yours.

User generated content is when someone (user) generates something online, not the person that "retweets" it or shares it.

Keep that in mind next time you save a photo and tweet it.

A much needed update to discourage the big-mouthed masses.

    Jimmy Watkins

    Scroll to the bottom of any Youtube video, controversial story, music website, etc, especially a popular one with a bunch of views, and you will eventually come to a place where respect is hard to find and vulgarity is impossible to miss: the bowels of the comment section.

    Sometimes the discussion is about whatever topic is on the page and two disagreeing sides just get carried away, other times someone makes a typo and it turns into people disgracing each other's family members.  Either way, anything goes.  People can give fake names on these accounts, and nobody has the time or energy invested in an internet argument to trace an IP address, which results in nobody thinking twice about what they are saying.

    I believe publications that have decided to take down their comments are making a smart move that doesn't hurt them too badly anyways.  What's the difference between commenting at the bottom of the page and opening a new tab to tweet at the publication?  As far as interaction with the stories go, cutting out the comments section should only cut off the voices of those who go too far.  Your real name and life are attached to your Twitter/Facebook profile, and employers have been known to swiftly deploy the boot to any pea brains that embarrass the company on twitter.  The genuinely interested and intelligent voices will have no problem taking to social media to give feedback on your post.

    People could, and probably do, make fake Twitter and Facebook profiles, but at least then it's more associated with their Twitter account and not on your website.  Either way it's their thought, but it eliminates a potential "are these the types of people that read this site?" train of thought.  They're still people with nothing to better to do than writing gratuitous comments, but it's in more of a public forum and its easier to isolate them by clicking on their profile.
                                                             (Photo from richmond.com)

      The idea of a forum comment section is innovative and ambitious in theory, but what is asking a question going to do to the people who are just there to attack people and argue their point to the angrily typed death?  It will steer the discussion, but the expletives dropped in the comment section do not tend to come within the first few responses.  It is after the discussion is left to stew for a few days that people start getting a bit off topic.

     The people who tell you that they know your girlfriend pretty well on the internet are going to be around for quite some time, as the internet seems capable of standing the tests of time.  As long as there is an internet for lonely people to bring others down, they will continue their keyboard assaults. The only thing that we can individually do to slow the problem is to not be part of it, and don't give those who are the time of day.

Where do user-generated news comments belong?

Lincoln Rinehart

The issue

A fundamental purpose of journalism is informing the public and promoting thoughtful discussion. News should prompt opinion holders to share their ideas, and uninformed community members to begin to form their own informed opinions.  Many news outlets have created comment sections on their websites where users can engage in discussion about any given article.  However, there is a limit on the usefulness of this discussion, and many times the discussion is... less than thoughtful.  News sites could experience outrageous criticisms about aspects of an article that can distract readers from the informational content within the actual article.  I believe unregulated user commenting on news sites could undermine the functionality of the news story.     

What contributes to the issue

Due to liability issues comments must be on a page separate from the article itself, or the comments must be consistently regulated to avoid libel lawsuits and to delete comments that are inappropriate. Inappropriate comments may come from users who are bashing the way the article was written, the author of the article or just ranting because they woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  A large contributing factor in what users say and how users say it online is anonymity.  As the Nieman Lab article stated, users are 'psuedonymous' when posting content on news sites - they feel as though they are anonymous because they commonly have no identity linked to their comment.  This anonymity means that users feel less accountable for what they say.  Allowing users total deniability for any comment they make frequently leads to uninformed, uncontrollable commenting.   

A common solution to the issue, and why it's successful

An article in Cnet explains that many news outlets, instead of promoting discussion on their news site, will attempt to move the discussion to social media by urging readers to share and comment on the story on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Social media provides effective platforms for discussing news content because the social media content is linked to the social media profile, which if it is truthfully representative of the owner, is usually preserved to reveal an appealing identity. Social media commenters may not want friends, family, employers, etc. to see the content they are posting if it is an angry rant about politics in a particular news article.  This self-regulation on social media allows users to engage in a more insightful conversation about a topic within a news article, rather than the particular story or how it came to be. 

The Cnet article cites an example of when attempting to enable user accountability failed.  When Google began to require Youtube commenters to identify themselves, users behaved just as rudely in commenting on content.  However, Youtube is not a reputable news source, and it is not generally identified as a site that promotes thoughtful discussion.  Only 1/5 of U.S. adults who use Youtube also receive news information on the site.  So although making users feel more accountable did not combat negative commenting on Youtube, I still argue that accountability would help foster meaningful discussion on social media sites where users more frequently obtain and discuss news information.     

Another significant contributing factor as to why social media is more effective for commenting on news information is that content shared on social media reaches a larger audience than the article would have if it was only posted on the news site.  This allows users in multiple different personal networks to contribute outsider information that could be left out of the community discussion if the article were not shared on social media.  A study released by Pew Research Center showed that nearly half of the 64% of U.S. adults using Facebook also receive news content from the site. Additional results in other social media platforms can be seen in the chart below.  Those who are receiving news from Facebook or other social media platforms may be more likely to share and discuss the news content on social media.  So overall, social media platforms are successful for discussing news information because 1) they promote thoughtful discussion because users are generally more accountable for comments that are linked to a profile and personal identity, and 2) the article reaches more readers, which allows more people to contribute to the discussion of the topic.

U.S. adults using social media platforms and U.S. adults receiving news from these platforms
Source: http://www.pewresearch.org/

Appropriate Commenting

Taylor Zanville

For years we have seen bullying on the internet as an issue. There have been serious cases of suicide due to cyberbullying and malicious commenting on internet sites such as: Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc.


Are malicious comments in B2B settings real? Are the content farmers that we often speak of really trashing other businesses with falsely created content? Why maliciously post? Cyberbullying has even gotten so far that schools who can provide evidence of such acts are now fining the parents of those kids who commit the acts. 

"Research in social networking has found benevolent comments online  are not alone but coexist in cyberspace with many impulsive and illogical arguments, personal attacks, and slander."- ACM.org

Is there a way to prevent said comments from being placed onto websites, blogs, posts, etc? One would hope that we can find a way to avoid and/or prevent such negative feedback and interaction.

How Comment Sections Destroyed News Outlets

By Maggie Lilac

Facebook reinvented the way news is shared in the social and digital space. In many ways it greatly improved the high speed sharing of news but it also generated false stories, gossip, and the always entertaining comment section. It is not the only place that has a comment section now either; almost all online newspaper have comment sections on articles and even the journalist's email to contact them. Places like Youtube are among the other websites that have heated comment sections.

Communication on the Internet has changed dramatically and this can all be linked to social media. It has made it very easy to state your opinion on almost anything and how you really feel without being questioned or sometimes even penalized for what you say. This can be potentially dangerous if young children read unedited or explicit comments on websites like Facebook and Youtube, who happen to notorious for their explicit comments.

Now, many news outlets are linking their websites with Facebook to allow for user generated feedback on articles and news. Because of this, trustworthy and respected online newspapers become places of vulgar language and uneducated reactions in the comment sections. Yes people are allowed to state opinion, that is our first amendment as Americans. However, when people use violent language, threats and uneducated guesses to think they solved a political or government problem, the comment section just turns into a bloodbath of opinions. The problem is the context that readers are using and the value of the conversation. In 2011, USA Today announced that it would participate in the Facebook to online articles idea. They found out that readers were having not so friendly reactions.

Many news outlets are deciding that since the value of knowledge in the comment sections linked to their articles do not reflect what they want on their website, they are deciding to remove the comment section and Facebook link.“If I was painting a picture of a site we were gonna have, and then at the end I said, ‘Oh, by the way, at the bottom of all our articles we’re going to prominently let any pseudonymous avatar do and say whatever they want with no moderation’ — if there was no convention of Internet commenting, if it wasn’t this thing that was accepted, you would think that was a crazy idea,” said Ben Frumin, editor-in-chief of TheWeek.com.

What started out as a great way to connect readers and share ideas quickly became a uneducated bashing zone of hate and rude comments. Prestigious news outlets do not want hateful and rude opinions on their website, and I couldn't agree more.

Comments section issues

Blaise Weber

The internet has changed the game for so many industries. It has made shopping easier, connecting with friends simple, and served as a bank of knowledge in so many industries. The internet has changed the world in both good ways and bad ways.  The good ways include helpfulness in categories such as travel, education, communication, dating, and so many others.

The internet can also be a place where evil malicious things are done. The same way bad things can be done in a house, restaurant, library, concert or any other place. The internet is simply a tool, and is up to its users to decide its positive value to society.

Communication, as listed before, is an industry completely revolutionized by the internet. People from all over the globe can communicate within seconds. Social media has made it simple to share an opinion or spread an idea all over the globe. The wide spread of ideas can help advance society in many ways. It can also be a bad thing. In most recent world events, groups like ISIS use the internet to spread ideas of hate. 

One particular problem the communication industry is having is the malicious content of comment sections. Online comment sections allow users to share opinions anonymously. This wouldn't be a problem if people didn't  use this advantage to say terrible malicious things to others.

Insecure, rude people use this tool to spread hate that they have in their heart, and have to suffer no consequences for their actions. They say hateful things to other commenters, and writers.
Constructive criticism is good for a writer, and he or she should be able to take it, but no writer should be absolutely torn limb from by simply having an opinion.

Social media like twitter and facebook has become the solution to this problem. Newspaper sites are sharing the stories on these sites, and using them as the comment section. So users can't say whatever they want without consequence.

I'm a strong believer in this approach. I feel that if you have a problem than with someone you should say it to them, and not duck behind the mask of a comment section. News sites have a job to do. Tell the public what it needs to know. Not give rude people a place to be rude.

Who's Behind the Comments? News Organizations Look to Social Media

Brittani Roper


Online communities have been around since the World Wide Web began. Users across the world are able to interact with each other through forums and comment sections to discuss issues and topics important to the individual communities. The good thing is, people are allowed to freely express their views and connect with people with the same or opposing views across the world. However when there is good there is bad, and anonymous users and robots have taken over the comment sections. These news articles can be inundated with negative, harmful, and offensive content. As a result, some news organizations have decided to remove comment sections on their websites, relying strictly on social media as a platform for comments and discussion. Others have decided to be more strict when it comes to user generated content and anonymous contributions.

News Sites Move to Social

Source: https://shar.es/1cZkmZ

With news sites shutting down their comment sections for good, there will no longer be any "true" anonymous content. USA Today has completely taken away readers' ability to comment on articles through their website. According Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg in an article by Justin Ellis, "We believe social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years." Annoying and anonymous comments have driven many news organizations to take this approach. On the the other hand, people can find freedom in knowing that they do not have to attach their name to their post allowing a free flow of ideas. News organizations question whether the conversations going on between users in these comment boards are actually productive and important to  online communities. I would argue that any conversation going on between users is productive because it gives them a voice. By forcing people to use social media as a platform for social media, there is potential that some audiences would be lost, especially the audience that does not use social media as a way to consume information. Although, this is a great move for millenials because we consume a lot of our news online it may not be the greatest move for older organizations. On a positive note, moving to social media will allow multiple communities to interact and converse with each other through one platform.

It is just as easy for someone to make a fake Facebook or Twitter page as it is to post as an anonymous user. Even if there are names attached, will it stop people from posting things that are harmful, offensive, and not add to the discussion? It is possible that we will see an increase in ghost accounts. As mentioned in "What Happened After 7 News Sites Got Rid of Reader Comments", establishing online community norms is essential to building the type of online community you want. The news site must a lot create content and spark discussions that keeps readers engaged and active on that social media platform. News organizations and social media professionals will have to work extra hard to get the results that they want.

What to do with comments?

Erik Threet IIet165913@ohio.edu


Commenting on an article, video, a topic or whatever it may be is a common practice that is seen regularly. Readers and/or viewers can chime in on the subject and are allowed (most of the time) to say whatever they want. The comments arise new perspectives, new concepts and new conversations, but a lot of people comment offensive, disrespectful and off-topic comments that leave ruin it for those who are there for its purpose. The purpose of commenting was to give the audience an opportunity to talk with a community of people who was interested in the same topic. However, trolling, racism, sexism, anonymity and off-topic discussion have made people question whether or not commenting should continue. Not because of these publications do not want a response from the audience, but because it is damaging the credibility of the author through comments that may or may not be based on fact.

Just like the commenters and their opinions, organizations and publications have opinions that have a vast range. Some allow commenting, some have recently gotten rid of their comments option like the USA Today and others are trying to make commenting better. There are strong cases for all three views about commenting.

In an article published by the Washington Post in December of 2014, columnist Anne Applebaum was quoted expressing her dissent of commenting.

"Multiple experiments have shown that perceptions of an article, its writer or its subject can be profoundly shaped by anonymous online commentary, especially if it is harsh," Applebaum said. "One group of researchers found that rude comments 'not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.'”

Not only are the comments foul and demeaning, but based on Applebaum's opinion, they skew the readers' outlook on the story. These comments hurt the author or blogger and could potentially hurt the publication that the author posts on.

A possible solution for this came about in an interview with Helen Havlek, who is an engagement editor at The Verge.

"We chose to have the writer go in and say, OK, this is the question I want to pose to the readers to start a valuable discussion," Havlek explains. "And that’s [also] what a forum post does: it keeps things on topic, it keeps things positive, and it’s less [just] reaction to a story."

Commenting gets complicated. Heinous comments can be poisonous for an author, but the feedback that they receive can give these authors new perspectives, new ideas and even help them grow as a writer. Being able to connect with an audience is an important part of being a writer. By getting rid of the comments section, the author would have more difficulties with regards to receiving feedback.
This topic is not something that will have a clear cut solution. Different subjects will provoke different comments.
"What was happening was that the posts with the most negative comments on them were the most popular posts because they were the culture posts," Havlek said.
In their case, The Verge deleted the comments section for more "cultured" posts to eliminate the vulgar and off-topic comments.

This was only one solution and only one perspective of a complex problem.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

User Generated Content in the News

Alex Warner

Amid the rapid flow of information through social media and the Internet, accuracy and verification of user-generated content are becoming more of an issue for news outlets. Without the verification of information, credibility can begin to diminish.

In a Poynter article that reviews tips for going about using user-generated content, it says one that is often ignored is, "Always contact the person who uploaded or provided the material. In other words, check the source as much as the information."

This tip is the key to reporting accurate information. Though getting the content of a story correct is important, photo(s) that go along with the story are of equal importance.

A journalist or photographer can make the unethical decision to manipulate a photo to make it better for a story and get in trouble for it; but when a person who has no responsibility with photos manipulates it, it doesn't seem like a big deal.

Just about anyone can access Adobe Photoshop, giving him or her the power to manipulate a photo in any way he or she chooses and put it out on the Internet. That's why newsrooms are implementing policies and procedures to help verify information before it is sent out.

According to an article from alldigitocracy.com, one way newsrooms are checking photos is with a digital forensic program called Fotoforensics. Through this site, users can see signs of photo manipulation, such as discoloration. The article also says talks about sites like, "TinEye and Google [that] offer free reverse image search that allow users to track down where an image originated."

Courtesy of: tineye.com

User-generated content can be very useful as supporting information to a story. It's the way newsrooms go about verifying that information, which can be tricky. With policies in place, this can be effective. In the Pointer article, it discusses how CNN goes about dealing with citizen content.

The CNN team uses iReport to vet citizen content. Lila King, a part of the CNN iReport team says, "At iReport we use a variety of tools: CNN-ers in the field, subject-matter experts, affiliate networks, and local media. We cross-check what we learn from citizen journalists with other social media reports."

This seems to be a very efficient way to handle what they see from citizens. Since anyone can manipulate a photo, it would be easy for newsroom to do the same. How is it that we can trust journalists not to manipulate photos?

Well, there is no definite answer, but we trust that journalists use ethical decision making before distorting a photo. Though in many cases, photojournalists have been fired for being found to unrealistically manipulate photos. For example, award-winning photojournalist Bryan Patrick was fired for enlarging details to stand out more in a photo.

Courtesy of: poynter.org

Circled above in the photo are the flames that Patrick enhanced. The photo switches back and forth to show the original and the manipulated aspects. Enhancing colors may not seem like a big deal, but it can completely change the meaning of a photo.

This is why it is so important for newsrooms to verify whether the information found is truthful and whether or not it is the original copy of a photo.

Comment Control

Malindi Robinson

With shows like E! News The Comment Section on television, it is an undeniable fact that the comment sections for gossip blogs and online news outlets alike are all the rage for trolling. Whether it is political banter or fashion advise and critique, everyone has an opinion - and everyone is posting theirs, respectively, into the comment section.

While everyone has the right to free speech and to express their thoughts and view, to debate with others and exchange ideas - the question now is whether or not the comment section of a news story is the place for such dialogue. Infringing upon the right to free speech is wrong, but the malicious and totally offensive comments that have become all too popular these days have to be monitored, as these words are directed toward and about real people with real feelings, families and images/reputations to uphold and important issues.

From American Journalism Review writer Tim Ebner's conversations with USA Today, worries with how to deal with this expanding territory are growing. Especially for respected news media outlets. Sometimes the issue isn't even offensive comments, but conversations that are completely unrelated to the post. I mean seriously, we have all seen users obnoxiously post spam links to a mixtape or shamelessly promote their business/product. To combat the issue, USA Today decided to direct their online comment sections to a third party social media platform, Facebook.

image credit: http://www.isleofwight-accommodation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Find-us-on-Facebook-logo.jpg

One of the main issues that appears to be connected with the plethora of racist, sexist and all-around offensive commentary is the fact that users can post anonymously on news site comments sections. Redirecting content feedback to a social media site doesn't quite eliminate anonymous posting, but it does discourage it. The drawback with this, however, is that not only do the number of negative/offensive comments drop, the number of comments drop altogether as some people are completely turned off by risking their privacy via posting from their personal Facebook pages.

According to Dave Colarusso of Reuters Digital, "much of the well-informed and articulate discussion around news, as well as criticism or praise for stories, has moved to social media and online forums." He made this statement as he announced Reuters own closure of their respective comments section. So, it begs the question - are comment sections in the age of social media obsolete? Should we just do away with them? One of the main benefits of directing commentary to social media is that "people are already on those networks, already holding conversations and sharing stories," according to Re/Code founder Kara Swisher as she was quoted by NeimanLab.

Kalev Leetaru, writer for Forbes.com, highlights that while the relevance and necessity of comment section is indeed fading - "not every website has given up on user comments yet." Outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times are collaborating with software projects to develop more efficient ways to manage and facilitate online discussion via their comment sections. While this is admirable, even with the latest tech developments - it will still be difficult to filter trash commentary, especially for smaller outlets.  

Commenting loses the power of anonymity

Alyssa King

The ability for readers to comment on online news platforms is not a new privilege. It has been in practice nearly as long as online news has existed. The idea makes sense, and at first glance it seems simple enough. Online commenting sections create spaces for people to start a conversation about what they've read (good for the readers), and express how they feel about what they've read (good for the news source). Simple enough? Maybe not.

Today people are more active online than ever. When more people become active online, more people become active on sites and comments increase. A person typing has the power to comment however they please to, and the publication has the power to control and delete comments and require certain expectations of those who are commenting. In a country where free speech is included in the first amendment, should they be able to do so? Yes they should.

In an attempt to guide conversation to be less harmful, offensive and obscene many news outlets have changed the way their online commenting systems work. Many of them, including USA Today, have created a new policy that requires online comments to be made through a Facebook account. The policy rids the previous commonly held idea that comments should be able to be mad anonymously. Now those who wish to comment will have to attach their names and social media accounts to the words they choose to post.

The hope is that this new requirement will effect what people choose to say and make online conversation more productive and less offensive. The value of anonymity still exists and may help create a safe space for those who choose to comment. However, this now has to be balanced with potential legal issues that may arise from offensive anonymous comments. I believe that anonymity is also problematic because people who comments with their own information (who may be considered citizen journalists) can not be traced. There fore, readers who see new information within the comments, cannot research the source from which they are receiving this information. Nilay Patel, editor-inc-chief of The Verge, mentioned that she believes conversations on Twitter tend to be "more civil" in an interview with NiemLab's Justin Ellis. She connects the civility to the lack of anonymity

Reuters.com also changed their policy but in a different way. They decided that the previous policy would still apply to the opinion section. Executive editor, Dan Colarusso explained that this decision was made because opinion pieces are" where you are trying to start an argument in the best possible way."

Though some users were upset with the change, there is no doubt that there were already users connecting their personal social media sites to news articles found online. USA Today uses SimpleReach, Chartbeat and CrowdTangle to track the use of their content on social sites. A Pew Research Center study revealed that the majority of U.S. adults are using Facebook and half of them are sharing or reposting online news content.

Recode's exectuive editor, Kara Swisher, said this about reader's responses to the change, "At first, everyone was like 'how dare you,' and then a lot of people did it. And a lot more will do it over time."