Both the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror today – among with several others in the US (including the New York Post, which credits the image to AP) and other countries – published an image purporting to be that of the dead Osama Bin Laden.
It clearly wasn’t.
Any journalist with a drop of cynicism would have questioned the source of the images – even if they did appear on Pakistan television.
It certainly passed the ‘Too good to be true’ test.
But instead of owning up that their image was a fake, both The Daily Mail and Mirror appear to have simply removed the image from their site, leaving that image to circulate amongst their users. Ego, pure and simple.
Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.
Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.
They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.
They should have asked the source to forward the original email.
Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.
An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.
This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 220.127.116.11, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).
And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).
When the telephone first entered the newsroom journalists were sceptical. “How can we be sure that the person at the other end is who they say they are?” The question seems odd now, because we have become so used to phone technology that we barely think of it as technology at all – and there are a range of techniques we use, almost unconsciously, to verify what the person on the other end of the phone is saying, from their tone of voice, to the number they are ringing from, and the information they are providing.
Dealing with online sources is no different. How do you know the source is telling the truth? You’re a journalist, for god’s sake: it’s your job to find out.
In many ways the internet gives us extra tools to verify information – certainly more than the phone ever did. The apparent ‘facelessness’ of the medium is misleading: every piece of information, and every person, leaves a trail of data that you can use to build a picture of its reliability.
The following is a three-level approach to verification: starting with the content itself, moving on to the context surrounding it; and finishing with the technical information underlying it. Most of the techniques outlined take very little time at all but the key thing is to look for warning signs and follow those up. Continue reading →
“The best pranks are the ones where the victim has absolutely no idea what is happening and this is true here. Some photoshop happy forummers on the Football365 Forum began adapting marathon photos from Flickr, Google Images and anywhere else they could get their hands on them.
“They then sent them in to the unsuspecting Sky News team with spectacular results:
Eric Ulken has taken “all the online job descriptions on JournalismJobs.com from this year, omitted the non-technical words (like “editor”, “seeks” and “self-starter”) and built a tagcloud out of the rest”. This is the result: