Knight Prototype Fund winner Checkdesk wants to take online verification to the next level

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Verifying the accuracy of social media information is a must for journalists, especially during breaking news events.

Social technology nonprofit Meedan realized the importance of verification while translating social media content between Arabic and English during the Arab Spring, said the organization’s research and communications director Tom Trewinnard.

The challenge of fact-checking info from social media on the fly gave rise to Meedan’s idea for an open source, online verification toolkit for journalists. The result is “Checkdesk,” a feature-rich, live-blogging platform that makes it easy for newsrooms to embed verified social media content into their reporting. It allows journalists to attach a status like “Verified,” “False,” or “In progress” to a piece of media and collaborate with readers or community members to help in verifying the information.

Checkdesk, whose CMS is a customized adaptation of Drupal, has already been adopted by several Arab media outlets that further customized it to fit their needs. Among them are Yomaty in Egypt, Ghirbal in Jordan and Shabab Souria in Syria.

The platform is being used to verify info such as a video of a military offensive by the Free Syrian Army on an oil refinery in the city of Homs. Shabab Souria used Checkdesk to work with activists on the ground and verify the video.

And with a new investment of US$35,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, through its Prototype Fund, Meedan plans to take its platform to the next level.

Trewinnard talked with IJNet about how Checkdesk works, and its plans for the future.

IJNet: What has been the impact of Checkdesk so far?

Tom Trewinnard: An early version of Checkdesk was used by Egyptian daily [news organization] Al-Masry Al-Youm to cover the presidential elections that took place in Egypt in 2012, which was a real milestone for the project. In addition to the publishing work, each of our partners has also conducted training workshops with their reader communities to develop digital media literacy, citizen journalism and verification skills.

IJNet: How do you work with your partners?

TT: In just under a year we’ve seen almost 10,000 updates featuring thousands of pieces of social media that have added depth to reporting across the MENA region. Each of our partners uses Checkdesk in a different way within their organization, and they retain full editorial control over what they publish.

IJNet: What do you plan to do with the Knight grant?

TT: [We want to make our tools] more available to anyone who is interested in asking questions about the media they see online. We want to incorporate checklists to guide people through various techniques that can be used to verify a YouTube video, for example, and reduce some of the friction in performing those techniques (checking the weather on a given date using the computational search engine Wolfram Alpha; revealing a photo’s EXIF data, etc.)

Click here to view Checkdesk. You can also get the code to install the platform on Github. The Knight Foundation Prototype Fund has rolling deadlines throughout the year. Apply here

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