Media LiteracySierra Leone

How To Verify Viral Videos

Videos are one of the hardest materials to fact-check. Unlike texts and photos, you cannot search for a video by pasting or uploading it to a verification site to see if it’s true or trending, at least not yet. In addition, fake videos are becoming easier to create and more difficult to detect as the information technology revolution continues. So journalists and citizens globally have a new responsibility to quickly gather, verify and ascertain the authenticity of viral videos.

Verifying videos on social media may seem difficult. But with the right approach, it is entirely possible. Here are some tips to help you get the job done: 

  1. The right mindset – First, a healthy level of skepticism is needed to investigate the backstory of the video in question. This is backed by high determination to familiarise oneself with the tools that can help establish facts about a video. 
  2. Before going on to use the tools, see if there’s anything else you can use to debunk or confirm the viral video. Is there anything in the video that seems obviously doctored? Has it been reported on traditional media? Is it similar to something which had been reported before? Also check if the details of the video change depending on the sharer. Is the post on one platform claiming something different from another platform? Sometimes the backstories for fake videos are frequently tailored to cater to different audiences.
  3. Use tools like the YouTube Dataviewer created by Amnesty International or InVid which you can download as a plugin or browser extension. The YouTube data viewer is for YouTube videos exclusively but InVid allows you to paste a link from other social media platforms to get more information about a video’s origins. InVid can also give you keyframes which you can use to image search and find out whether the video has been published before. Many videos that go viral are simply decontextualized — meaning, they had already been shared before and may exist on the web but are being reshared in another context. An example is the viral video of another tanker accident in Sierra Leone following the November 5 explosion this year.
  4. Apart from InVid, another way to get keyframes is to take a screenshot of the video from your mobile device. You can then upload it to a reverse image search service to see if it has been published elsewhere before. TinEye and Google are just two of many tools you can use for this. Reverse image search can give you a better clue on whether a video is true or has been decontextualized. 
  5. Another way to go about verifying the authenticity of  a video is to download it and check out its metadata. Metadata is basically like recordkeeping information about the data in question. Some examples of basic metadata include author, date created, date modified, file size. Most social media platforms strip this information off media once someone uploads it, but if you have the source material, you might find clues about the video’s origin. 
  1. Geolocation software can also be useful to check whether the video was actually taken where it claims to be. If the video was taken outside, Google Earth is a good tool for this.
  2. If you find no leads with the tools, then try doing a quick keyword search on Google or on YouTube for some words related to the video. You may see similar images or videos which may be clues for what you are actually looking for.

Verifying videos can be time consuming. If all else fails, do not reshare viral videos, without ascertaining the origin or authenticity. Seek verification through someone else in the capacity to do so.

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