Tag Archives: hoax

Content, context and code: verifying information online

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. Continue reading

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Facebook, cartoon avatars, “paedos” and SEO as a public service

A few days ago status updates like this were doing the rounds on Facebook:

“Change your facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. Until Monday (December 6), there should be no human faces on facebook, but a stash of memories. This is for eliminating violence against children.”

Of course it is. Or maybe not. Today, the rumour changed poles:

“This cartoon thing has been set up by paedos using A registered charities name to entice kids. apparently on the 6th dec you will be kicked off fb if u have cartoon pics. The more folk that… put up cartoon pics the harder it is fo…r the police to catch these sickos!!”

There doesn’t appear to be any truth in the latter rumour. Internet hoax library Snopes has a similar hoax listed, and this seems to be variant of it. ThatsNonsense.com also covers the hoax.

SEO as a public service

Hoax updates do the rounds on social networks and text messages on a semi-regular basis. Remember the one about children being kidnapped in supermarket toilets? Or how about police banning English flags in pubs for fear of offending people?

In both cases the mainstream media was slow to react to the rumours. A Google search – which would be a typical reaction of anyone receiving such a message – would bring up nothing to counter those rumours. (Notably, perhaps because of its public and real-time nature, Twitter seems better at quashing hoaxes).

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is much derided for a perception that it leads news organisations to write for machines, or to aim for the lowest common denominator. But SEO has a very valuable role in serving the public: if searches on a particular rumour shoot up, or mentions of it increase on social networks, it’s worth verifying and getting up the facts quickly.

This is another reason why journalists should be on social networks, and why publishers should be monitoring them more broadly. Whether your motivations are civic, or commercial, it makes sense both ways.

Of course, on the other hand you could always recycle urban myths about councils banning Christmas

PS: If you need any tips on methods and tools, see my Delicious bookmarks for verification.

(h/t to Conrad Quilty-Harper)

Mistakes in the Big (and small) Media: Quality in Reporting

It is always fun when a hoaxed piece of research gets past all the filters and makes the newspapers, but what does it teach us? This is a video report from the Hungry Beast team in Australia, “proving” which part of Australia is the most gullible. The answer is, apparently, “the media”.

Link, in case the video doesn’t embed properly.

Here’s a different example from last week: Andrew Lansley’s insurance of a painting and medal on his Expenses as an MP.

All the papers quoted a value of 3500 ukp, except for the Independent which quoted a *premium* of 3500 ukp. Continue reading

How to spot a hoax Twitter account – a case study

Fake Jan Moir tweets on Twitter

The fake Jan Moir lays some too-good-to-be-true bait on Twitter

If you were following the Jan Moir-Stephen Gateley story that was all over Twitter today you may have come across a Twitter account claiming to be Jan Moir herself – @janmoir_uk. It wasn’t her – but it was a convincing attempt, and I thought it might be worth picking out how I and other Twitter users tried to work out the account’s legitimacy.

The too-good-to-be-true test

The first test in these cases is the too-good-to-be-true test, and this works on a number of levels. Jan Moir tweeting in itself was a great story – but not completely unbelievable. Her second tweet said “I have been advised by my editor to create a twitter account and offer my sincere apologies for any upset and distress i have caus” [sic] – a superficially plausible story. Would you buy it?

But there were some other too-good-to-be-true claims in her tweets. One said “My son is gay. I am not homophobic. Please read my article properly.” Does Jan Moir have a son? Is he gay? Would she announce it on Twitter? Continue reading

User generated content? Or great place for a prank? Sky gets photoshopped on Marathon day

Good to see final year journalism degree student Todd Nash has his hoax-spotting eyes on. He’s kicked off a new journalism blog with an overview of some pretty obvious photoshopping that managed to get past the people at Sky News:

“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:

Tron on the Marathon

“How they didn’t see Tron amazes me. Continue reading