Mass misattribution of viral Brussels video

Another breaking news event, another mass misattribution of viral videos – even by leading global media organisations, like CNN and The Guardian. The World Editors Forum spoke to David Clinch, Global News Editor of social news agency Storyful about the failing verification of user-generated content.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 24, 2016

It was Tuesday morning, about 90 minutes after the first two explosions at Brussels Airport when Anna Ahronheim tweeted a video of people trying to escape. With 27,000 shares on Twitter and many news organisation re-publishing it, her video went viral.

But Ahronheim wasn’t in Brussels, and this wasn’t her video.

“We tracked down the source of the video, Pinchas Kopferstein, thanks to some media contacts on the ground in Brussels and he sent us the original of the video, which we are now licencing and distributing on his behalf,” Clinch told the World Editors Forum.

Ahronheim could have, and should have, credited the video to Kopferstein. But she grabbed it from a Whatsapp group, which doesn’t leave a trace of its original source; she is not a journalist, and she told Clinch that she never gave permission to credit her. Blaming her for the mass misattribution of the video is too easy.

“The journalists and news organisations who took it from her, and credited it to her should have known better,” says Clinch, explaining that it was absolutely clear – if only from her timeline – that she wasn’t there.

The Guardian incorrectly attributed the video to @AAhronheim, and is now working on a correction, according to Clinch. The airport video was only one of the viral materials that was widely misattributed by well-respected news organisations.

CNN was attributing the footage of the metro scene to a scraper – a person or organisation who is obviously not there and ripping it off the internet, instead of its real creator Evan Lamos. This has now been corrected. “Attributing it to a scraper, you might as well write ‘I found this on the internet’,” says Clinch, “or perhaps they have asked the scraper to use it and he or she said yes, then that’s really bad journalism.”

The problem is that the wrong questions are being asked, Clinch explains. “Instead of asking can we use it? Journalists need to ask: where does this video come from, where were you when this happened? Do you have any other images to show that you were there?”


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