A Facebook page established by JMSC bachelor of journalism students to verify rumours about the on-going Hong Kong democracy protests has struck an immediate chord with the public, surpassing the 100,000 “likes” level within days of its launch.
The bi-lingual site, called VerifiedHK, provides fact-checked protest information including reliable news reports, photos and logistics updates through Facebook and Twitter, and also responds to individual requests for verified information through Google.
The site was started by two bachelor of journalism students, Gloria Cheung and Lydia Sung, who were concerned about the large number of false protest rumours circulating on the social messaging service Whatsapp. They decided the best way to stop inaccurate information from circulating was to determine which rumours were true and which were false, and to publish their findings on the Internet.
Gloria, who is in the final year of her degree, said they quickly convinced fellow classmates to join them and they now have a team of around 20 bachelor and master of journalism students running the operation, which is headquartered in the JMSC student lounge at the University of Hong Kong.
“A group of people are staying at the JMSC to verify and post the information and then every part of Hong Kong that is occupied has someone from the team on the ground,” she said. “We try to make sure that there are two people monitoring the situation all the time but people do need to sleep and some people have been pulling 24 hour shifts.”
Gloria said fact-checking of rumours and protest information was critical as any information that is posted could create panic on the Internet, and on the ground.
“Last night we heard a rumour that there were some triad members in Mong Kok who were causing trouble,” she said. “We had to utilise team members on the ground who talked to people at the medical booth at Mong Kok and they said that everything was fine. It turns out that was just a rumour.”
Isaac Cheung, a second year bachelor of journalism student who has worked with the team since its inception on September 28, said that if they can’t verify something, it will not be published.
“One of the things we want is a visual confirmation, so we ask for a photo or video,” he said. “On the first night there were rumours that people would start shooting protestors after 12 midnight, but we ended up not publishing that because we couldn’t verify it with anyone or with any solid evidence.”
“If we don’t get anything that verifies that it’s 100 per cent true, we don’t print it. We err on the side of caution.”
Gloria said the service would be continued for as long as the protests last. She also said all the people on the team support the Hong Kong Occupy Central movement.
“As a Hongkonger, we want a true universal suffrage, and this is my strong hope as well,” she said.