Social Media’s Rumour Mill & Africa?

There is an ongoing Social Media Summit at the BBC College of Journalism.

Recently on this Summit,  Neal Mann spoke about how ‘new journalism’ now works with 2,000 sources  (i.e. social media). He however took exception to being tagged a ‘ social media journalist’. In his words, “The nature of social media is that it spreads news quickly, but it can also be an echo chamber for rumour.”

Shortly afterwards, the BBC College of Journalism Blog provided a list of solutions to dealing with social media’s rumour mill. It revealed the processes its news channel goes through in order to verify content amassed from social media.

The verification process was set within the framework of their reports from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria. As I read through the list, I thought to myself, ‘African journalists could learn a thing or two from this formula without having to reinvent the wheel.’

Therefore, instead of shying away from harnessing social media as a source for news, or wasting precious time bitterly condemning citizen journalists(prosumers) for lack of accuracy, African journalists could form a marriage-of-sorts by adopting this pretty water-tight approach to verification before publishing.

The List:

  1. Referencing locations against maps and existing images from, in particular, geo-located ones.
  2. Working with our colleagues in BBC Arabic and BBC Monitoring to ascertain that accents and language are correct for the location.
  3. Searching for the original source of the upload/sequences as an indicator of date.
  4. Examining weather reports and shadows to confirm that the conditions shown fit with the claimed date and time.
  5. Maintaining lists of previously verified material to act as reference for colleagues covering the stories.
  6. Checking weaponry, vehicles and licence plates against those known for the given country.

On a second read through this list however, I found that an African journalist would find it difficult to key into some of the procedures for a variety of reasons that boil down to this one solid fact:

Africa is not just there yet ICT-wise

The continent has been progressing at a very fast rate in recent times, however there is still a lot of ground to cover in terms of information and communication technology adoption. Drawing from a visualisation provided by FACEBOOK, a site ICT Works, claims that Facebook usage in Africa is doubling every 7 months. Although the author was quick to note that, compared to the USA or Europe, Africa is still “dark”

Google Maps for instance, is still trying to get a strong foothold on Africa. As at 2010, it had mapped 30 countries out of  about 53 in the continent. That is a breakthrough, but referencing locations against maps (geo-located ones) may not be an exciting solution yet. Even if the technology were there, there would be need for solid training to ensure the technology is not under utilised. It is quite comforting to know that not all Western journalists have keyed into this procedure yet or even adopted social media as a worthy co-player in the field; so perhaps, Africa can play catch up if we sit up 🙂

Connecting with Journalists in the field (away from the office) to re-confirm: This is usually the case where you have enough man-power and the finances to back up sending them on errands. Based on my research (undergraduate project) on Nigerian press and foreign reporting – in-house reporters are rarely sent to cover events of global interest. The media house would rather depend on wire news sources than send a reporter at such a huge financial expense. Back then, social media was not in the mix – now the story has changed and there is a ‘new journalism’ – what can African journalists do?

It’s an open question and I would appreciate your contribution –

What Can African Journalists do to harness the power of Social Media in accurate News Reporting?

Thanks for reading!

Media Junkie


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