Recently a video emerged of a woman riding her bicycle through a London street being catcalled by a man in a van. As a shocking and emotive video, it quickly notched up views and went viral. However after it was published by numerous national news publishers, it has since been suggested that the incident was staged.
This isn't the first (and likely won't be the last) time a fake video has been published without the media realising its unreliability. For example, Mashable revealed last year that The Woolshed Company, a film production firm based in Melbourne, produced eight videos that were all fake over a two year period. For a while, it was debated by various news media whether the videos were fake and this spread the videos even further.
In addition, audiences are faced with Macedonian click farms churning out articles claiming the Pope is backing Trump as a means of making money, as well as state and third party bodies intentionally sharing false information to influence the outcome of elections. Fake content is rife right now and it needs to be stopped.
So in a world with doctored videos and disinformation campaigns distorting what we all see online everyday, how can the public understand whether the content they're consuming and sharing is truthful, and how can media companies prevent their reputation from being damaged by fake content?
Firstly, the media organisations need to become more thorough in their checking of content, and should work with trusted user generated content partners to make this easier. In the 24/7 online news culture there is always a race to get a piece of content out, but being able to depend on quality, trusted partners as news sources means that compelling video can be accessible quickly and also crucially, be trusted.
For example, we employ a number of techniques, ranging from the highly technical; metadata analysis, reverse image search and social media history cross-referencing, to more traditional journalistic techniques such as speaking with the filmer and by simply digging deeper if something 'doesn't feel right'.
A further step would be to establish an independent body, and ideally multiple bodies, who dedicate themselves to verifying news and awarding marks of accreditation (or concern) to individual videos and news articles that appear on social media and elsewhere online.
Verified video is hard to deny
When video has been verified, it can actually play a role in debunking fake news. This is because everyone can look at the video or image in front of them and draw their own conclusions. It's much harder for people to shout down a video. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in US politics; the only time Trump has had to apologise for past behaviour was when there was a video to back up the claims. It became impossible for him to deny - the video presented a case he could not answer.
User generated video tells compelling stories
The value of user generated content when it has been verified is huge, and despite the growing incidence of staged videos, the format is still highly trusted by audiences. Whereas we've seen for a long time how high quality content can engage audiences, the crowd is the new creative force in video; the content feels fresh and it's real. In fact research shows that ads featuring live filming of real people, emotion and humour perform far better than ads that feature actors working to a script on an expensive set.
Ultimately, videos go viral because they strike a chord with you. It's the emotion in the stories that drive their appeal and subsequent virality. It's compelling to audiences because it's authentic. Done right, user generated video is one of the best ways for online publishers, television broadcasters and brands to engage with audiences and is one of the most genuine forms of media.
However, user generated videos must be verified to ensure that what is depicted has not been staged. There is a danger to media companies that do not have access to a platform or partner that can give them confidence in the provenance of a video, that they could be publishing unverified video. The risk to their brands from publishing content from a dubious source is potentially devastating and during this time of 'fake news', it's crucial that the media demonstrates its authority and rebuilds trust.