The BBC's UGC hub, based in the newsroom at New Broadcasting House in London, is a dedicated team of journalists who are responsible for a lot of the user-generated and social media content that makes its way on to BBC News outlets across digital, radio and TV. Assistant editor Natalie Miller explains what UGC adds to BBC output.
It can be integral to storytelling. With other stories it adds a vital missing piece of human interest. UGC is also invaluable for capturing the unexpected.
The verification process
Before any UGC appears on a BBC platform, it has to be checked or verified. You need to be able to easily see if there are any references to the same or similar content on other social media sites or the wider web. Here are some things to think about when verifying content:
Is this an authentic piece of content? For example, if you are looking at a tweet, did the person whose name is on the Twitter account really send it, as it is possible to fake tweets? If you are looking at a photo, has it been 'photoshopped'? Has a video been staged?
Look beyond the blue tick. Analyse the account, checking its credibility, history, interaction and relationship with other users and websites. There are websites which can help you assess how genuine accounts are: Twitteraudit.com, Twittercounter.com and Klout.com.
Analyse images for signs they have been manipulated. Things to look out for include differences in scale, light (is it falling on everything in the same way?), weather, equipment (eg badges, guns etc that might have been added), added logos or picture quality (bad picture quality is often used to mask 'photoshopping').
Check if images have appeared elsewhere on the web. Click on the camera in Google Images for Google reverse image search.
Another useful website is Tineye.com.
It is important to find the original uploader and get in touch with them - preferably by phone. If you talk to someone rather than communicating by email, for example, it is easier to tell if they are genuine. You also get an idea of whether they would be good on air.
If someone has sent you a photo there are a number of basic questions you should run through:
- Who are they?
- Where are they?
- What can they see?
- Why are they there?
- When did they get there?
- Are they in a safe location?
- And have we made sure that we are not giving any impression of commissioning them to do anything dangerous?
You may not be lucky enough to have their phone number or email address. You could do a Google search to track down their social media profile or use a site like Pipl.com. If you only have a website address, their information could be in a Who.is search - just put in their website's url.
Some photos contain digital information known as 'exif data' which can tell you the date the picture was taken, where it was taken, the make and model of the camera and the original dimensions of the image. If you right-click on an image you can see some of this data. There are also free online tools which can help you analyse it, including Jeffrey's exif viewer and Fotoforensics.com.
Here's a photo of trainees on a verification course spelling out a key phrase and the resulting page from Jeffrey's exif viewer.
Finally, don’t forget to talk to colleagues who might have local or specific knowledge.