Knowing the multiple tools available to check online content has become an absolute necessity for journalists, but just as crucial is knowing how they work and what they can and cannot do, with the aim of not committing big mistakes.
This is one of the most striking warnings mentioned by fact-checking experts who participated in the 12th seminar for journalists organized by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), Casa Asia and EFE, at the news agency’s head office on December 13 and 14.
The event was held prior to the Asia-Europe Foreign Ministers (ASEM) meeting on December 16 in Madrid.
Under the slogan “Media Trust Information in the Digital Age,” the seminar brought together more than 20 young journalists from Germany, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Spain, Greece, India , Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Switzerland and Thailand.
Independent consultant Eoghan Sweeney warned that users cannot ask applications for the analysis of images such as FotoForensics, which are very useful to verify photographs, to give a final verdict on a particular case without knowing its limitations, and gave examples of mistakes.
Sweeney, creator of the OSINT Essentials website dedicated to online investigative journalism, warned that analyzing images is a very complex task. “There is no single solution, a single button that tells you if a photograph is real or has been digitally altered,” he said, citing another expert in the field, Neal Krawetz.
Speaking to EFE, Sweeney said that the media “is going in the right direction” with the initiatives they have taken in recent years to discover and report false or misleading information, but he is realistic. “This is a war that we can never win, that we will never stop fighting, we simply have to do our best to face it.”
On his OSINT website, he has brought together a complete collection of tools to help the detective work of discovering false information, wherever it comes from, and he revealed to the seminar participants some of his personal “secrets:” for example, how to investigate the profile history of a Twitter account even if we do not follow it, or how to find the email of an individual from their Twitter account.
Unfortunately, there is still no effective tool to verify video, Pablo Sanguinetti, an Argentine journalist currently working as a teacher for Google News Lab in Spain and Portugal, said.
According to Sanguinetti, the Californian multinational has already trained more than 220,000 journalists worldwide to use its multiple search tools that can be used to verify content.
He focused on five of these tools: the advanced options of the popular search engine, reverse image search, maps, YouTube, which has the second largest search engine in the world, and artificial intelligence developments.
And with regard to artificial intelligence, another speaker, Lukasz Krol, drew attention to a central problem affecting this technological revolution, and urged journalists to be vigilant.
“Humans generate limited or bad data, and we use that data for machines to learn,” Krol, Digital Projects Coordinator at the College of Europe in Natolin, Poland, said.
In addition, “machine learning is based on the data currently available, and reflects the society we have or had, not the one we want to have,” more egalitarian, more sensitive to environmental damage, less polarized.
In the closing session of the seminar, EFE President Fernando Garea said that digitalization “is no longer the future, but the present of journalism” and that “it should serve to unite geographically distant regions such as Europe and Asia.”
“There are hardly any barriers, and those that still exist are going to be removed precisely with permanent exchange and with the practice of journalism that is in a continuous process of change and evolution,” he added.
The twelfth seminar for journalists organized by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), Casa Asia and EFE, is one of events that form part of the news agency’s 80th anniversary celebrations.