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New JMSC project focuses on checking and verifying online sources

In the fast-moving digital age, journalists need to be able to quickly check online sources and identify reliable information for their reporting.

The Cyber News Verification Lab is a new project at the JMSC with the aim of bolstering traditional reporting and writing classes to focus on, and apply, verification of online sources.

It collaborates with Meedan, a Google News Lab partner, and is piloting the company’s Check verification platform.

The platform allows for multiple journalists working on a project to bring their verification steps together. Users can post story claims and then work together in a verification timeline to comment on the claim and share evidence to determine whether it is true or false.

Collaborators on a story can also annotate each step and the platform also automates some tasks such as Google reverse image searches.

“The Cyber News Verification Lab is helping students to apply their news literacy learning from the classroom to real-world case studies,” said Anne Kruger, Lecturer and project leader for the Lab.  

For the first time this academic year, undergraduate students taking two foundation courses—Principles of Journalism and the News Media, and Reporting and Writing—have been practising fact checking, verifying stories online and sourcing stories from social media in a beta-test of the latest version of the Check platform.

“Our input and pilot of the Check platform has also been directly used to fine-tune software later used to cover the US and French elections,” added Kruger.

A version of the software is now being used in a project called CrossCheck to verify stories about the French presidential election and was deployed by the Electionland project to track and cover voting problems during last year’s US election.

Piloting at the JMSC has also helped to test that the system is compatible with Chinese characters and content from Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat.

Users can post stories on the Check platform and then anyone in the team can add notes to contribute to determining whether the claim is true or not

Developers at Meedan have worked with the JMSC directly to fix bugs and improve the reliability of the software.

Ann Choy, Teaching Assistant for the project, said that she has seen a noticeable difference in the way that students check and verify sources.

“At the start they used to upload finished articles without checking them, but after a while all students began using the steps taught in class to check facts properly. This has now become a natural habit that they’ve all got into.”

JMSC students recently used the platform to investigate rumours during Hong Kong’s chief executive elections. In one incident, students investigated a “rent a crowd” story about election day supporters being paid HK$600 to rally for chief executive-elect, Carrie Lam.

An undercover reporter from Hong Kong television network i-Cable filmed money changing hands. Students took it a step further and tracked sources through social media to contact and confirm that individuals were indeed using platforms such as WhatsApp to enlist “part-time” workers for the day.

“Collaborating with classmates on Check helped provide another perspective and added depth to news stories that were hard to verify,” said first-year Bachelor of Arts student Nicole Martin Nepomuceno.

“Check helped me be more aware of fake news and to practise all the verification steps we learnt in the course,” said fourth-year Bachelor of Business Administration (Accounting and Finance) student Zoe Lau.

Industry partners have also visited the JMSC to see how the Check platform is being used and find out about how the Centre teaches news literacy and fake news analysis.

Mandy Jenkins, Head of News at Storyful, based in New York, visited in February and took a tour of the facilities at Eliot Hall and met with students taking a news literacy lesson.

Meedan is an international team of designers, technologists and journalists that builds digital tools for global journalism and translation—read more here.

(Feature image: Mandy Jenkins, Head of News at Storyful, visited the JMSC in February to find out more about how Anne Kruger teaches news literacy)