The often quoted “wisdom of the crowd” is not necessarily a guarantee for dependable and truthful news. Users are quick to judge, provide alleged pictures and information in particular in cases of natural disasters or terror attacks.
After the Boston Marathon attack, a student at Brown University who had not been seen at the university for a few weeks was suspected of being responsible for the attack. What followed was a downright witch-hunt. The media seized on the entirely unfounded charge of a social media user.This is evidence that it is getting harder for classical media and aid organizations to verify news that is being transmitted via the Internet and social media platforms in particular.
When major natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes strike, eyewitness accounts and videos can provide information about survivors and the course of the disaster, but this can also be problematical because nobody can verify the credibility of the information that is being handed out.
Verily is an online service that has been launched to help prevent future witch-hunts and false information. They want to use crowdsourcing to verify the accuracy of the news. The cooperative project of the Masdar Institute of Technology and the Qatar Computing Research Institute/QCRI is currently only available in the Beta version, however the launch of the platform is making rapid progress and is scheduled for completion in 2013.
The Verily system is based on a reward system and an ever-growing community. Members of the community can build up a positive reputation similar to the models on amazon or ebay. They can also invite friends to help strengthen the collaboration between the users.
The Beta version will initially be used to gather news about natural disasters. It will test whether users can judge if pictures have been edited or retouched and if the claims being made are truthful. Positive assessments will be given to those who have proven that they can judge information and pictures, and they will become reliable sources. The higher the reputation of a user, the more weight his opinion will be given in the future regarding the evaluation of information.
Patrick Meier, previously a director at ushahidi.com is also involved in the project.
Find out more about that in our blog article dated 18.01.2011 “Crowdsourcing and crisis communication.”
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