Emerging Journalistic Verification Practices Concerning Social MediaJournalism Practice


Petter Bae Brandtzaeg, Marika Lüders, Jochen Spangenberg, Linda Rath-Wiggins, Asbjørn Følstad


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Journalism Practice

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Emerging Journalistic Verification

Practices Concerning Social Media

Petter Bae Brandtzaeg, Marika Lüders, Jochen Spangenberg, Linda

Rath-Wiggins & Asbjørn Følstad

Published online: 13 Mar 2015.

To cite this article: Petter Bae Brandtzaeg, Marika Lüders, Jochen Spangenberg, Linda RathWiggins & Asbjørn Følstad (2015): Emerging Journalistic Verification Practices Concerning Social

Media, Journalism Practice, DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2015.1020331

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2015.1020331


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Petter Bae Brandtzaeg, Marika Lüders, Jochen Spangenberg,

Linda Rath-Wiggins, and Asbjørn Følstad

The verification of social media content and sources are increasingly critical to journalists and news organisations. In this study, we report on findings from qualitative interviews conducted with 24 journalists working with social media in major news organisations in Europe. Our findings contribute to new knowledge on journalists’ social media working practices. We find that social media content are often used as the primary news source, and journalists use several different verification strategies to verify social media content and sources. Journalists are also found to have various competences in verifying social media content, in particular visual content.

Moreover, our study suggests user requirements for future innovations in tools to support the verification of social media content. To avoid trade-offs between verification and fast-paced publishing, journalists will need efficient and easy-to-use support both in the verification process and in structuring and organising an overwhelming amount of social media content.

KEYWORDS journalism; social media; user requirements; verification


Traditional journalism practices are changing due to the disruption in information and communication patterns caused by social media (e.g. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), that is, a group of internet-based applications “that allow for the creation and exchange of user generated content” (Kaplan and Haenlein 2010, 61). Journalists increasingly turn to social media (Knight and Cook 2013), especially for researching topics, curating information and analysing stories (Hermida 2012). Furthermore, journalists use social media to share their experiences, their thoughts and opinions, and to engage in dialogue with their readers (Spangenberg and Heise 2014). Social media may also be used for online identification of sources and for interviewing eyewitnesses (Wardle 2014).

Journalistic norms and ideals, such as impartiality, objectivity and accuracy (Golding and Elliot 1979; Shapiro et al. 2013), highlight the need for effective verification of social media sources and content (Schifferes and Newman 2013). The credibility and trustworthiness of news organisations, which in part depends on adequate verification practices (Knight and Cook 2013; Silverman 2014), cannot be taken for granted. Over the past two decades, the public’s overall trust in the press has declined (Project for Excellence in

Journalism 2006); some even consider journalists among the least credible professionals in the world (Hanitzsch 2013). It is therefore of importance to keep journalistic standards high and to take into consideration new strategies of how to verify content, especially in regards to social media content.

Verification of social media sources and content is challenging. It is often difficult to determine the truth, accuracy or validity, both of sources providing textual content and content presented through other modalities (video, images or audio). In situations of

Journalism Practice, 2015 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2015.1020331 © 2015 Taylor & Francis

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Y or k U niv ers ity ] a t 2 1:4 4 2 8 M ay 20 15 controversy, social media may be particularly prone to being used for propaganda and the spread of disinformation. The Social Media Today report suggests that 49 per cent of people in the United States have heard breaking news via social media that turned out to be false (Morejon 2012). During the Arab Spring in 2011, for example, several actors flooded Twitter and YouTube with false information (“Social Media” 2013). There have also been a number of well-documented cases in which manipulated photos and untrue stories, spread via social media, have been picked up and distributed by news agencies (Schifferes and Newman 2013). Thus, this paper explores journalists’ experiences and their emerging working and verification practices concerning social media.