To fact-check information from our Observers - especially the first time they contribute - we use traditional journalistic methods. The first time we come into contact with a potential Observer (either they approach us or we approach them), we treat them like any other news source. We crosscheck the information we give them against other sources; we ask for photo or video documentation; we question them closely about their access to the event and motivations for talking to us. We err on the side of caution. We contact pertinent government agencies or other concerned parties. Once an Observer has contributed, they become a trusted source.
We use the following methodology to verify photos/videos sent in by our Observers, whether they say they took them themselves or found them online:
We try to contact the author of the image (if not our Observer).
We check to see whether the image has been previously posted elsewhere (Google Image search, InVID, Amnesty’s YouTube Dataviewer, etc).
We examine the image for signs of manipulation/tampering/photomontage.
We show the image to other Observers with firsthand knowledge of the issue/location.
We show the image to expert sources with knowledge of the issue/location.
We compare the image with published accounts of the same event.
Our work with amateur contributors has made us experts at verifying images from nontraditional sources. Since 2014 our team of journalists put that expertise to use in a special section called “Debunked.” Our journalists analyze and verify photographs and videos that have been widely shared online, but that may have been faked, manipulated or taken out of context. We explain our fact-checking methodology in each Debunked article, and we further share our expertise with the public, for instance in our detailed online photo/video verification guide.