Find, check, acquire: Rules and snags of UGC

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Finding eyewitness content on social media may just be the fun part of a process which involves verification, acquisition, legal and ethical issues.

And one which Verily founder Asha Phillips is well qualified to explain. It's something she's done "nine hours a day" at Storyful - prior to its acquisition by News Corp - and with other employers which include CNN, Australia's ABC and Yahoo.

We're at a day-long workshop ahead of the Publish Asia conference in Manila, with a roomful of delegates ranging from novices to old hands. Many work for sites with visitors in the millions in a city with famously high smartphone ownership but internet connections which can be woefully slow: "Welcome to the Philippines," someone quips.

The workshop is something WAN-Ifra does particularly well, and in and in adjacent room, a smaller group is coming to terms with "newsroom transformation", a subject much vaster than those two words suggest.

Asha Phillips discusses key differences between platforms such as Twitter (500 million tweets a day) and Facebook (700,000 posts a minute), emphasises the need for speed, and introduces tools for search, verification and analysis.

Some - like the basics Feedly, Photodesk, Gramfeed, Trendsmap and Geofeedia, and those attached to the platforms themselves - are free or budget-priced. Others, including the analysis tool CrowdTangle which can tell you your competitors' performance as well as your own (and which she also promotes and trains as Asia Pacific account director) come at a cost, which may be upwards of $500 a month.

Notwithstanding the frustrations of slow internet, she takes the group through verification with video of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, applying forensic journalism skills with the help of TinEye and Google's reverse image search (which show where a picture may have already been used), reading image datestamp and EXIF data. Storyful's multisearch (a Chrome extension)n is another free resource.

She urges close observation to see if the elements of the scene - including architecture, signage, clothing, vehicles and weather - ring true, and goes on to track social posts and profiles. In the Boston example, it turns out footage has been posted by the daughter of a runner, for whom name, email and phone number can be traced.

And then it's our turn, first with much-viewed footage from the Brussels bomb attacks - which it turns out, comes from a local freelance who was travelling to work when one bomb went off - and then the Nepal earthquake. There's a sequence of stills by an ABC journalist who happened to be there while on a scholarship (and is a former colleague of Phillips'), Facebook-verified footage of the chaos at a traffic roundabout where a shrine collapses, and waves on a hotel swimming pool... which turns out to be in Mexico! Five groups in the room work through the checks establishing the bona fides of each item of content, and finding new detail.

And then there's not just the means, but the ethics and legalities of publishing on social media, with Phillips - who is involved with the Coalition of Journalists - contrasting the "Wild West" approach of some sites with the more responsible approach of others.

One rule recurs: "Always ask permission," she says, offering some advice from her Storyful days about how to approach (and empathise with) someone who has firsthand content. "And if you don't hear back, don't use it unless (and here's the hard bit) it's really important, when you should credit the uploader and platform."

Phillips also emphasises the need to consider the impact of publication on the originator, those pictured, and others including the effect of "vicarious trauma" on journalists who view dramatic and sometimes violent video day after day.

The upside, of course, is engagement and audience and while there's an implied reluctance to look at the metrics of consumption, sharing and response, this is what it's all about if publication is to be monetised.

Like or not, Facebook rules, and publishers have to face up to the fact that that is where people are. New opportunities are emerging with Facebook's live and VR-style 360 video and of course, Instant Articles, although it's "hard to say how it's working until figures are available," Asha Phillips says.

And everything continues to evolve, hard to say what will be the next big thing. Which probably means we'll all need to come back next year for an update.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Sandra Pineda and Andrei Medina from Philippines-based Summit Publishing work through video clips

On our home page: Asha Phillips leads an attentive workshop audience

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