Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have joined a network of news and technology organisations set up to improve skills and standards in the reporting and sharing of information that emerges online.
The First Draft Partner Network has brought together some 30 companies to tackle difficulties in online reporting, such as verifying new information as it breaks.
Its creation is a response to the rise of social media as a medium for breaking news, with eyewitnesses frequently uploading footage or comments on public platforms through their smartphones.
Widely seen footage of terror attacks in Paris and London, for example, were taken by eyewitnesses who shared the videos online before they were picked up by major news outlets.
A spokesperson said: “The network is the first of its kind to bring together the biggest social platforms with global newsrooms and other industry projects and associations.
“Partners work together to tackle common issues, including ways to streamline the verification process, improve the experience of eyewitnesses and increase news literacy amongst social media users.”
The problem of identifying real and fake stories online was highlighted last month after Facebook’s decision to axe 18 editorial staff from its “Trending” team in favour of on an algorithm saw bogus stories begin to trend on the platform.
Facebook’s decision, including its recent removal of a famous Vietnam war photo because it included nudity, has prompted calls for it to acknowledge its role as a news publisher and employ staff to make its editorial judgements.
“We live in a time when trust and truth are issues that all newsrooms, and increasingly the social platforms themselves, are facing,” said Jenni Sargent, managing director of First Draft .
“Filtering out false information can be hard. Even if news organisations only share fact-checked and verified stories, everyone is a publisher and a potential source.
“We are not going to solve these problems overnight, but we’re certainly not going to solve them as individual organisations.”
Sargent told Press Gazette that “stemming the flow of misinformation” was a “big part of it” and said the support of the social media networks was “vital”.
The Partner Network is backed by eight social media news organisations (including Reported.ly and Storyful) as well as Google News Lab.
As well as the social media and video giants, other partners include Telegraph Media Group, Channel 4, Buzzfeed News, AFP, Washington Post and The New York Times.
First Draft brings has said the aim of bringing these companies together was to work on ideas and initiatives, including a train-the-trainer programme, the launch of a collaborative verification platform, and the creation of a voluntary code of practice.
Dealing with “vicarious trauma” was also a point of focus for the network, said Sargent. “These journalists sit and watch so much graphic imagery on a daily basis, we want to work with newsroom managers to protect them”.
She added that journalism schools both in the UK and US (although she said the network had yet to get in touch with the NCTJ) were falling below par in teaching new online skills, such as methods to verify sources through Geo-location or how to survey several online sources at a time,
“There are so many people doing really brilliant stuff. There’s also a surprising number of leading journalism schools that still don’t include this in their curriculum,” she said, adding that First Draft News was hoping to get online skills included in journalism training.
It is also hoped that with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube joining the Partner Network that a dialogue will open up that may lead to best practice or better yet platform improvements to suit journalist’s needs.
“They will either say ‘yes, that’s the only way you can do it now’, but hopefully they might say ‘if it’s useful to you, we can build that into our platform’,” she said.
“This is certainly the first that I know of where the social networks have all come together under the same banner to work with news outlets.”
Sargent said First Draft News would be able to act as a mediator between organisations looking to learn from each other.
Áine Kerr, manager of journalism partnerships at Facebook, said: “The First Draft partner network represents an important opportunity for the news industry to work together on best practices, training, research and more.
“We’re excited to help and support newsrooms that are experts in using eyewitness content.”