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Wed October 2, 2013
All Tech Considered

Social Media Detectives: Is That Viral Video For Real?

Originally published on Wed October 2, 2013 7:56 pm

Whether it's an uprising in Egypt or a video of a fake twerking session gone awry, news outlets need to know everything they can about a video before they run with it. That's where Storyful steps in. The company helps journalists figure out what's real, and what's not.

"We use the same forensic process of discovery and verification for Syria as we do for hoax videos," says Executive Editor David Clinch.

Since 2010, Storyful has worked with companies like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC and others to make YouTube videos, tweets and cellphone snapshots a major part of the news cycle.

"When a story breaks, there is no shortage of content that exists," Clinch says, "but the problems are finding it in the first place [and,] most importantly, verifying that it's real."

When bombs went off at the Boston Marathon last April and early news reports surfaced on social media, it was Storyful's job to sift through the noise and help its clients deliver the news.

"For instance," Clinch says, "there was a video that everyone ended up using of a woman running down the street with a GoPro camera attached to her head."

To verify that that video was actually an eyewitness account, Storyful first had to find the source. It had been uploaded to a YouTube account, NekoAngel3Wolf, with no personal details, so Storyful workers searched Twitter to see who had been sharing the video. They found a user named NightNeko3, which they connected to a Pinterest account, which was linked to a Facebook account. Then they checked the name on the Facebook account against the list of marathon runners.

"We saw a person with the same [last] name who stopped her marathon run at exactly the point where that explosion was seen in the video," Clinch says.

Finally, they flipped through the phone book and called her up.

"[We] worked out that that was actually her in the video and that her daughter had uploaded that video," he says.

This type of digging is just one way Storyful vets amateur videos. Everything from the length of a shadow to a digital blemish can be used as a clue to determine whether something is actually what it claims to be. But Storyful also works with users to broker deals between people and news providers.

Jennifer Preston, a reporter for The New York Times' Lede Blog, says when the Times wants to post a video in its own player, "our practice would be to reach out to that person and to get permission and to pay them." But YouTube videos are a different story.

Viral videos can make big bucks on the Web — YouTube has a revenue-sharing system by which money from advertising is split between the uploader and the website. But as Andrew Springer, senior editor for social media at ABC News, points out, news outlets like his and the Times generally don't pay directly to embed YouTube videos.

"During the Boston bombings, when we were clearing videos and we were clearing photos that were tweeted or YouTubed or whatever, nobody came back to us and said, 'Yeah, you can use my video of the Boston bombing if you pay me X amount of dollars,' " Springer says.

There's an obvious upside to news groups being able to gather content free, but Clinch says he hopes to help change this "Wild West" attitude to what he calls a more ethical model, where people are paid for what they upload. He calls it a "win-win-win":

"The people who own the content get courtesy and part of the revenue; the platforms and the news organizations that want to use it know that they have permission to do that and also know that they can generate significant views and revenue themselves by adopting this model."

Storyful is acting as a third-party resource for mainstream news outlets around the world, but places like the BBC, Al-Jazeera and NPR have in-house teams that are doing many of the same things.

"Any news company that thinks that they can survive and thrive using only traditional news content is missing the point and is missing a huge element of what the future of news is," Clinch says.

And as the line between social and traditional media gets blurrier by the second, news organizations hope to keep the facts in focus.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

More and more news organizations are finding and sourcing content through social media. Whether it's evidence of chemical attacks in Syria, the Boston bombing, or the fake-out video of an eagle snatching a baby, the problem for old-school news organizations is sorting out what's real and what's fake. And that's where a company called Storyful comes in.

NPR's Sami Yenigun reports.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Whether it's an uprising in Egypt...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

YENIGUN: ...or a video of a fake twerking session gone awry...

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, my God.

YENIGUN: ...news outlets need to know everything they can about a video before they run with it, says Storyful's executive editor, David Clinch.

DAVID CLINCH: We use the same forensic process of discovery and verification for Syria as we do for hoax videos.

YENIGUN: Since 2010, Storyful has worked with companies like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC and others to make YouTube videos, tweets, and cellphone snapshots a major part of the news cycle.

CLINCH: When a story breaks, there is no shortage of content that exists. But the problems are finding it in the first place but, most importantly, verifying that it's real.

YENIGUN: When bombs went off at the Boston Marathon last April, the earliest news reports surfaced on social media. Storyful's job was to sift through the noise to help their clients deliver the news.

CLINCH: For instance, there was a video that everyone ended up using of a woman running down a street with a GoPro camera attached to her head.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

YENIGUN: Storyful started working to verify that this video was actually an eyewitness account. To do that, David Clinch says, they first needed to find the source.

CLINCH: It was uploaded with a username that really wasn't a real name.

YENIGUN: NekoAngel3Wolf, an account with no personal details, so Storyful searched Twitter to see who'd been sharing the video. They found a user named NightNeko3.

CLINCH: We were able to connect that user name to a Pinterest account that had a real name.

YENIGUN: From that social media profile, the name was linked to a Facebook account, and Storyful checked the list of marathon runners.

CLINCH: We saw a person with the same name who stopped her marathon run at exactly the point where that explosion was seen in the video.

YENIGUN: Then they flipped through the public phone book.

CLINCH: Rang her up and worked out that that was actually her in that video, and that her daughter had uploaded that video.

YENIGUN: This type of digging is just one way that Storyful vets amateur videos. Everything from the length of a shadow to a digital blemish can be used as a clue to determine if something is actually what it claims to be. But there's another reason Storyful reaches out to users, and that's to broker deals between people and news providers.

Jennifer Preston is a reporter for the Lede Blog at The New York Times. She says, when The Times wants to post a video to its player...

JENNIFER PRESTON: Our practice would be to reach out to that person and to get permission, and to pay them.

YENIGUN: But YouTube videos are a different story and viral videos can make big bucks on the Web. YouTube has a revenue sharing setup where money from advertising is split between the uploader and the website. But as Andrew Springer, senior editor for social media at ABC News, points out, news organizations like his and The Times generally don't pay to embed YouTube videos.

ANDREW SPRINGER: During the Boston bombing when we were clearing videos and we were clearing photos that were tweeted or YouTubed, or whatever, nobody came back to us and said: Yeah, you can use my video of the Boston bombing if you pay me X amount of dollars.

YENIGUN: There's an obvious upside to news groups being able to gather content for free. But David Clinch says he hopes to change this Wild West attitude to what he calls a more ethical model, where people are paid for what they upload. He calls it a win-win-win.

CLINCH: The people who own the content get courtesy and part of the revenue. The platforms and the news organizations that want to use it know that they have permission to do that, and also know that they can generate significant views and revenue themselves by adopting this model.

YENIGUN: Storyful is acting as a third party resource for mainstream news outlets around the world. But places like the BBC, Al-Jazeera, and NPR have in-house teams that are doing many of the same things.

CLINCH: Any news company that thinks they can survive and thrive using only traditional news content is missing the point and is missing a huge element of what the future of news is.

YENIGUN: And as the line between social and traditional media gets blurrier by the second, news organizations hope to keep the facts in focus.

Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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