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The number of open-source tools and platforms that have emerged to help contextualise and verify information from social media has been one of the biggest developments in journalism in recent years.

"People are realising now that there's a wealth of sources and information out there to help you do a different type of journalism, and it allows stories to emerge from regions that may otherwise not have had that reportage or coverage," explained Malachy Browne, news editor at Storyful.

The social newswire, which was bought by News Corp at the end of last year, has carved a niche for itself in monitoring conversations which are emerging on social networks around newsworthy events using platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Google Maps.

"By effectively organising social media you are able to listen to those conversations and exclude all of the crap that you don't really need to listen to," explained Browne.

"It's kind of like the way Google says it wants to organise the web – what we've done is we've organised social media just using lots and lots of Twitter lists, Facebook interest groups, YouTube collections, and then having our technology monitor that."

You want to establish what their motivations are for posting this – [and] are there any inconsistencies in the footage that you're seeing?Malachy Browne, Storyful
Storyful's custom-built Newswire alerts the team to trending words and phrases, with "extra weight" built in for dramatic words and terms likely to be used in breaking news situations.

Once the outlet has been alerted to breaking news, the next part of the process is verification, something Browne describes as "old-fashioned journalism - checking your sources, checking how many sources you have reporting the same event".

The first step in verifying such content, said Browne, is always to "find the original source".

"The first person to post, examine their history, look at their digital footprint, on whatever account you can find be it YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, whatever," said Browne.

"You want to establish what their motivations are for posting this. Are they uploading from a particular place over a long period of time, do they say that they're posting from multiple different places – which is unlikely, that they've been moving around that much – are there any inconsistencies in the footage that you're seeing?"

Brown noted the speed at which the ousting of President Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso, West Africa, was reported recently was "really down to social media".

"Not many Western reporters were in there and there were a huge amount of photos and video posted online in a situation that escalated very quickly," he said, adding that mainstream media coverage had relied heavily on content from social media.

Below are five tools that Browne recommends for monitoring and verifying information from social media.

Google Maps

Alongside establishing the original source of any information posted to social media, discovering the location of the source is also key to verifying that content, said Browne. 

One of the ways Storyful does this is by taking note of any landmarks or distinctive buildings featured in photos and videos, and attempting to verify the location using satellite imagery from Google Maps or geo-located photographs posted online.

"When the Iraqi military put out videos of strikes on Islamic State targets, sometimes those videos will have the latitude and longitude, or some reference to it, and we'll check the satellite imagery to make sure that they are actually bombing a place that is in Islamic State hands and that it is where it says it is," explains Browne.

Tweetdeck

Twitter is Storyful's "primary signal" for breaking news and eyewitness media, said Browne, explaining that Tweetdeck was an essential tool for organising and monitoring tweets.

"By having well-curated lists, very good search terms [and] understanding the filters on Tweetdeck, that allows you to exclude a lot of the noise that you may not be interested in and focus on the beat that you're given for a particularly day," he said.

[Instagram is] as close to real-time as you can possibly get without live broadcasting.Malachy Browne, Storyful
Browne also recommended that journalists spent time and effort into curating effective Twitter lists, added that monitoring "a really tightly curated list" is very often the best way to find breaking stories.

Storyful has curated more than 560 Twitter lists for various locations and topics, said Browne, some of which are public.

For example, for a recent Twitter list to monitor news on Ebola he pulled in any relevant accounts from Storyful's existing location lists covering the affected areas, before contacting key agencies and organisations connected to the crisis to see what other accounts he should be following.

"It's a bit labour intensive... but you reap the rewards from it," he said.

Gramfeed

"Instagram has been a revelation in the last year or two, particularly since video was introduced," said Browne.

He believes Instagram video is "as close to real-time as you can possibly get without live broadcasting" because unlike YouTube users who are more likely to wait until they get home to upload footage, Instagram video tends to be posted on the spot.

"A lot of Instagram content is geolocated as well, so that helps the verification process, but it also helps create a visual stream of what's happening," said Browne, "be it Hong Kong or Kiev or whatever the situation might be."

Gramfeed is a useful platform for searching images by date or time, including images posted around a certain location.

Users can either search for images at a particular location or, for less localised stories, visualise photos on a map.

Facebook

We're always trying to find somebody who is closer to the story than a reporter in the newsroom.Malachy Browne, Storyful
Facebook Graph Search is "not great," admits Browne, although the platform can be useful for trying to find an expert in a particular area or somebody 'on the ground' where a story is breaking.

"If a tornado sweeps through the Midwest and you want to find people or pictures or videos there, you can search for people near the name of the town, or videos posted recently near the town," he explained.

Earlier this year Storyful launched its Facebook Newswire, aimed at making it easier for journalists to find, share and embed newsworthy content on the platform.

The outlet has also curated a number of Facebook interest lists which it uses to monitor information in a similar way to Twitter lists.

Topsy

Topsy is another tool that Storyful use regularly to search Twitter by time and place and set alerts for particular topics or keywords.

"We're always trying to find somebody who is closer to the story than a reporter in the newsroom," said Browne, "we want to find eyewitnesses".

"If you want to find the first people to report a particular event using distinctive search terms, then Topsy is great at tracking back to the beginning of that event and trying to identify the first people who started talking about it."

  • Tickets for Journalism.co.uk's next news:rewired conference on February 3, 2015, are now on sale. For more details visit news:rewired.com.

Update: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Malachy Browne's surname, initially written as Brown.

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