Verification, user generated content, and why it matters

Last week, First Draft News ran a workshop at the Guardian on verification and user-generated content. There’s video of the sessions coming to the First Draft News site soon, including a speech I gave – of which the text is below.

Hello everyone, and thanks for joining us today. I’m Mary Hamilton, the Guardian’s executive editor for audience.

Part of my role is to oversee the ways we treat people who participate in our journalism, and the unspoken contracts between journalists, contributors, uploaders and readers.

As I’m sure everyone in this room and watching online understands, this is an area that is going through constant change at the moment, driven by social media and its capacity to allow anyone with a phone and a network connection to act as broadcasters.

The growth of the real-time web, especially through Twitter, has enabled every eye-witness to tell the world what they can see – and every reporter to respond in an attempt to gain exclusive knowledge.

It has also enabled the growth of hoaxing, and the ease in which an image or a video can be divorced from its context has made it trivial for mistakes to thrive and appear truthful.

The Guardian has both a duty and a commitment to report the truth, to treat our journalists with respect regardless of whether they are professional reporters, and to act ethically in handling contributions from readers and user-generated content.

We know that many of our readers want to help us do our jobs well.

During the Paris attacks, when a significant volume of incorrect or inaccurate information was circulating through social media, readers came to us to ask us what was truthful – what was known.

They also came to us to tell us what they knew was false – to assist our writers and live-bloggers by sharing their own detective work.

In a breaking news situation, many people want to know what they can do, and how they can help.

For some, that means sharing unverified images that confirm their own beliefs.

For others, that means turning to us to ask the questions they can’t answer themselves, or offering us their expertise so that we can weave it into something larger and more meaningful.

This is crucial work: we are still the gatekeepers of truth for our readers, and when we say something is real, is confirmed, is verified, that act of journalism remains utterly vital.

In a world in which truth is often slippery, being accurate and authoritative is more important than ever.

But in order to do that work, our newsroom and our news processes have to respond to the changes we see on the internet every day.

We have to be able to receive, investigate and verify not just tweets and Facebook posts, but also chat posts and live streamed video.

We have to understand how to verify posts on services that strip user information from uploads, or that encourage anonymity.

And we need all these things in place before a breaking news situation requires them, if we are going to respond with speed and integrity when a big story breaks.

When it does, the Guardian is among the best in the world at involving and engaging our readers and eyewitnesses in our coverage.

We’re used to using uploaded reports in our live blogs, verifying UGC in real time, and doing the hard graft of sifting through eyewitness reports to find the information that moves a story along.

We have to understand the impact, too, of being the people who possess these skills, and we have to take care of reporters and editors who see traumatic imagery on a regular basis.

In this fast-changing environment, we are seeing a rise in violent images shared broadly, and how we handle, check and verify those has huge impact on both our journalism and our reporters.

It’s important, again, that we get those processes right ahead of time, before news breaks, so that we can support our journalists and treat eyewitnesses ethically.

User-generated content doesn’t just help us out with breaking news.

UGC can help us dig deeply into investigations, unearthing new stories.

When we build crowdsourcing and audience-focussed story generation into our newsgathering processes, we can gain insight, add colour and break stories that wouldn’t be possible without involving our readers.

We’ve seen that with the Counted, where our audience is helping us to build the most complete picture of US police killings – we have reported several that would have gone unrecorded without our audience’s help.

We’ve seen it with the NHS, where our readers’ stories – personal and professional – have helped us flesh out and humanise our coverage.

And we’ve seen it with the Millennials project, where readers physically came to the Guardian to share their thoughts, concerns and needs, to inform our commissioning.

Each of those projects has involved quite different tools and approaches.

We have created live events, curated online communities on our own and other sites, and used our UGC platform GuardianWitness alongside other tools to gather reader stories and encourage them to share knowledge.

Many of the tools we use today did not exist, or existed in very different forms, two years ago.

We have to prepare for a future in which the tools we use change at a dramatic rate, and develop processes that take advantage of new technology while also retaining our core mission: to report broadly, deeply and accurately on the stories that matter most.

So we are happy today to host First Draft News for this verification and UGC workshop, and keen to see their work and hear their views on these issues.

With us today we have Eliza Mackintosh, former Washington Post journalist and now UK partnerships coordinator at Storyful in London who will be talking about verifying breaking news, using examples such as the recent Paris attacks and finding Dylann Roof; Malachy Browne, Europe editor at who traced the manufacture and shipping of bomb components from the European Union to the United Arab Emirates and Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, who has been working for the last five years verifying and debunking events in Syria, such as Russia’s claim that it didn’t bomb a mosque.

Thank you to all of the speakers for bringing their expertise to the Guardian, and thanks to all of you for attending.

Come work with me

Breaking radio silence on here to shout about the fact that I’m hiring a deputy in New York. Official title is deputy US audience editor, and there’s lots more info – and an application form – here. Basically, if you do interesting things at the intersection of journalism and the internet, and want to do them enthusiastically for the Guardian in America, get in touch.

More frequent blogging to resume shortly, I hope.

Pocket Lint #25: permeable

If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish email on Fridays you can sign up here.

She’s not playing it wrong.

“The euphoria made time pass quickly, and the light outside faded as it got later and later into the evening. We were sitting at a table drinking, and talking, and she was telling me about a tattoo she planned on getting on her upper arm. She grabbed my hand, and ran my fingertips slowly over the spot she wanted it, staring into my eyes. Oh yes, something was building. The moment is burned into my memory, the moment before everything changed.”

The line between terrorism and mental illness.

How extreme isolation – as used in prisons and as a torture tactic – breaks down the human mind.

Climate change is a mental health issue: “The ability to process and understand dense climatic data doesn’t necessarily translate to coping with that data’s emotional ramifications. Turns out scientists are people, too.”

NASA has posted a huge library of free-to-use space sounds.

“A few weeks ago I killed a patient.”

Pop Up Playground are crowdfunding to support Melbourne’s Fresh Air festival next year. Without them, Spirits Walk and Ludonarrative Disco Dance would never have happened. If you like fun, accessible, games in real space, even if you can’t make the festival, please support them; they help keep game makers making.

Poem of the week: since feeling is first, e. e. cummings

Game of the week: TAKE CARE

Tumblr of the week: Clickbait Dissertations

Pocket Lint #23: the work we do

If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish email on Fridays you can sign up here.

What do homeless veterans look like?

The women I pretend to be.

“I have never been more resolved, in 18 years of practising journalism, of the absolute importance of our function in a democracy. I have never been more sure that the opportunity cost associated with doing this job is, actually, worth it. I believe we matter. I know I’m not alone in that belief. Yet we act as though we don’t matter, and facts don’t matter, and truth doesn’t matter. Call this Dispatch this particular weekend a love letter to my profession, and an outpouring of grief at its failings.”

The mother question.

‘Two days before CoverGirl, the NFL’s “official beauty partner,” was forced to respond to the league’s handling of the Ray Rice case, I helped three girls on the internet find concealer to cover up their bruises and self-harm scars.’

A woman is in jail in the US for helping her daughter have an abortion.

Is it a crime to raise a killer?

Gender disparity in corporate fraud. Even in white-collar crime, the pay gap persists.

This Is Katie Fucking Ledecky: A Thesis About Kicking Ass. The only column I’ve ever read that has instantly made me watch several videos of swimming on YouTube.

A non-definitive ranking of the Mitford sisters.

What Kim Kardashian: Hollywood can teach us about Carl Jung.

[shameless self-promotion] “Some people find it easier to put aside their fear than others; I find it almost impossibly difficult. It would be easy to give up, knowing that even if I manage to conquer my lack of coordination enough to run up a wall, I’d still struggle with the fear of getting down again.”

“The right leg of Leo Bonten broke after a stupid accident. There was an infection, it was off. But Leo wanted to keep his leg per se. To make a lamp out of it.”

Confessions of a former internet troll: “If there was a difference between trolling and schoolyard taunting, it was trolling’s particular take on the best way to be an outsider. The prototypical rebel without a cause is either a nihilist or self-serious, disappointed by a vapid world or giving up on it entirely; in either case, he is not content to gossip while there are motorcycles to be ridden in stoic search of the real. For us, it was neither possibility: the world was the place that cared too much, but the way to be above it all was to take aim at its vanity, to embarrass those who thought themselves too composed and too in charge to ever be caught flustered by something petty. We engaged. We had a cause. Whether it was a worthwhile one was a separate issue entirely.”

The Ballad of Marine Todd: how the internet created a morality play and remixed it into infinity. Little Red Riding Hood for the modern age.

Cat performance review.

Tumblr of the week: Women in space.

Poem of the week: Interview, Dorothy Parker

Game of the week: You won’t tell anyone, right?

Pocket Lint #22: tomorrow, and tomorrow

If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish email on Fridays you can sign up here.


A history of ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’, a relationship advice column in Ladies’ Home Journal, founded in 1883.

There’s an adage amongst storytellers: “Show, don’t tell.” With games, you should go a step further: Don’t even show! Let the audience find the answer. Put interesting things in your game — you were going to do that anyway, right? — and then don’t call attention to them. A cool thing that can be missed makes the world feel more like a real place and less like a clockwork puzzle constructed purely for the benefit of the player. And don’t worry about people missing your cool thing, because players will tell each other about what they’ve found.”

A first-person account of Cotard’s delusion, in which the sufferer believes they are dead.

[The old man offers a response—and thinks it came out OK—but sees on the face of the other guy that not one word was understood. This other guy, he resembles the old man—the old man of a few years ago, at least—and is speaking to him now, but the old man is not sure which language he’s using.] Take the steps slow, your correspondent is telling him as they duck into the subway station. Real widow-makers, these. [The old man looks up at him with lamblike credulity in his eyes. He has no choice but to believe he is being led somewhere in good faith.]

Women have always fought.

“It sounds bizarre, in some ways, to talk about creativity apart from the creation of a product. But that remoteness and strangeness is actually a measure of how much our sense of creativity has taken on the cast of our market-driven age.”

Who is U2?

A definitive and important ranking of animal penises.

Tumblr of the week: Grandpa and Grandmaster Flash.

Poem of the week: Japanese Maple, Clive James.

Game of the week: Stop the Boats, a Tony Abbott simulator.

Pocket Lint #20: Snowblind

If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish email on Fridays you can sign up here.

10 Beautiful Interracial Arrests.

We study white people. We are taught this as a tool of survival. We know when there is unrest in the souls of white folks. We know that unrest, if not assuaged quickly, will lead to black death. Our suspicions, unlike those of white people, are proven right time and time again.”

Can we imagine, for a minute, what it would look like if officers were trained in mediation? What if you called the police when you witnessed a violent fight; officers arrived ready to separate the parties, come to a non-violent resolution, and make sure each person got home safely. As long as they are connected to the system of incarceration, we cannot expect the police to take this role.”

Fark adds misogyny to its moderation guidelines.

Hellhole: on the US prison system’s use of solitary confinement as torture.

Ted talks are lying to you.

Adderall’s technology problem: “Tech should to be a viable career path, not an investment market for a wealthy select few who aren’t on the ground floor. And it should be an inclusive industry that doesn’t favor the young, able, and self-destructive. But if we maintain this idolization of high-producing individuals, the rat race will persist. As long as there is an economic incentive to harm oneself in hopes of performing the superhuman, those who will not — or, for those of us with ADHD, cannot — will remain subhuman.”

The P.T. Twitch stream that first revealed the game’s secret: a strange, extremely scary free demo released on the PS4 turns out to be a trailer for an absolutely huge videogaming collaboration. And will probably be better than the final game.

My partner’s Kickstarting his game Goblin Quest, and a Twine game coauthored with me is one of the stretch goals. It’s going well so far.

The etymology of “cladly dressed”.

“Many of these women come from hours away, one from a little town on the Kentucky border that’s a seven-hour drive. They don’t know much about Dr. Parker… What they do know is this: He is the doctor who is going to stop them from being pregnant.”

Tumblr of the week: If They Gunned Me Down.

Poem of the week: Common, A Letter To The Law.

Game of the week: Kindness Coins.

Pocket Lint #16: put down your milk for a moment

If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish email on Fridays you can sign up here.

“Firstly, you must buy a scratchcard only as an impulse, when buying other things. Arriving one day at the checkout, with your hands full of milk, bacon, chilli-coated peanuts, you will glance absent-mindedly at the stand of colourful cards and be immediately shaken with the intense feeling that you are alive and that nobody can stop you from winning everything. Although, that is not to say you feel confident. This is a feeling more wistful and playful in nature than confidence. It stands to reason that what you are feeling is a sense of fatefulness. If you are an atheist, this is the closest you will ever come to detecting providence in your life. Put down your milk for a moment.”

America’s first female astronaut: ‘Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them. At every turn, her difference was made clear to her. When it was announced Ride had been named to a space flight mission, her shuttle commander, Bob Crippen, who became a lifelong friend and colleague, introduced her as “undoubtedly the prettiest member of the crew.” At another press event, a reporter asked Ride how she would react to a problem on the shuttle: “Do you weep?”’

Mansplaining explained: not just old-fashioned sexism, but also systemic differences between typical male and female communication styles.

America, a review: “What the characters lack in consistency, they make up for in body weight, lingering racism, and inconsistency.”

Everything is wrong with the Lord of the Rings films, and John Dolan would like to tell you about it. (h/t @adambrereton)

“But the syllable is only the first child of the incest of verse (always, that Egyptian thing, it produces twins!). The other child is the LINE. And together, these two, the syllable and the line, they make a poem, they make that thing, the—what shall we call it, the Boss of all, the “Single Intelligence.” And the line comes (I swear it) from the breath, from the breathing of the man who writes, at the moment that he writes, and thus is, it is here that, the daily work, the WORK, gets in, for only he, the man who writes, can declare, at every moment, the line its metric and its ending—where its breathing, shall come to, termination.”

Arthur Miller on what life was like before air conditioning. “The men sweated a lot in those lofts, and I remember one worker who had a peculiar way of dripping. He was a tiny fellow, who disdained scissors, and, at the end of a seam, always bit off the thread instead of cutting it, so that inch-long strands stuck to his lower lip, and by the end of the day he had a multicolored beard. His sweat poured onto those thread ends and dripped down onto the cloth, which he was constantly blotting with a rag.”

There are family trees, and there are trees from hell that are filled with snakes.

The sigils of 90 demons, in case you need them.

Tumblr of the week: Owl Turd, because of this heartbreaking comic, We Go Forward.

Poem of the week: The Mutes, Denise Levertov

Game of the week: Coming Out Simulator 2014

Pocket Lint #11: fun and folly

A pick of the most interesting things I read this week. If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish weekly email on Fridays you can sign up here or using the form below. Pocket Lint will be on holiday for a few weeks after this week’s instalment.

Is the Oculus Rift sexist? “[B]iological men were significantly more likely to prioritize motion parallax. Biological women relied more heavily on shape-from-shading. In other words, men are more likely to use the cues that 3D virtual reality systems relied on.”

Facebook doesn’t care about your brand. “You want to achieve reach because you’ve made something good that people want to share. And if you’ve made something good or interesting, then people will be sharing it organically in any case.”

In praise of brevity: “Like passengers in a lifeboat, all the words in a concise text must pull their own weight.”

Clickbait journalism didn’t start with the internet. From 1873: “Our four or five thousand daily and weekly publications have columns of “Nuts to Crack,” “Sunbeams,” “Sparks from the Telegraph,” “Freshest Gleanings,” “Odds and Ends,” “News Sprinklings,” “Flashes of Fun,” “Random Readings,” “Mere Mentions,” “Humor of the Day,” “Quaint Sayings,” “Current Notes,” “Things in General,” “Brevities,” “Witticisms,” “Notes of the Day,” “Jottings,” “All Sorts,” “Editor’s Drawer,” “Sparks,” “Fun and Folly,” “Fact and Fiction”…”

The problem of choice in interactive narratives: The real destination is the creation of meaning, whether that be the reader’s interpretation or reconstructing the author’s intent. The work is not completed by reading the final page but by reading the all of the pages.

How can we preserve Twitch Plays Pokemon?

“Home Depot™ Presents the Police!®” I said, flashing my badge and my gun and a small picture of Ron Paul. “Nobody move unless you want to!” They didn’t.

The definitive ranking of Robin’s 359 exclamations from ‘Batman’

Piipshow, a webcam feed from a Norwegian bird feeder dressed to look like a coffee bar.


Tumblr of the week: Fat birds

Poem of the week: Frank O’Hara, Steps

Free game of the week: Super Hot

powered by TinyLetter


Pocket Lint #10: wrapped in plastic

A pick of the most interesting things I read this week. If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish weekly email on Fridays you can sign up here or using the form below.

Gunshot victims to be kept in suspended animation, to buy time for doctors to fix their wounds.

The pointlessness of unplugging: “We are only ever tourists in the land of no technology, our visas valid for a day or a week or a year, and we travel there with the same eyes and ears that we use in our digital homeland.”

The pseudoscience of Alcoholics Anonymous, which only has a 15% success rate, and the problems with “Cadillac” rehab.

The overprotected kid, the junkyard playground, and the importance of risk-taking play. ‘The problem, says Ball, is that “we have come to think of accidents as preventable and not a natural part of life.”’

Silicon Valley’s brutal ageism: “an extra burden of proof on the middle-aged to show they can hack it, on a scale very few workers of their vintage must deal with anywhere else.”

What happens as children grow up a little: “Like characters in Dungeons and Dragons, the little ones—with their distinct clothing and high dexterity—can’t carry heavy weaponry, but they can be dispatched to pick locks and fetch magical rings from small places. Sometimes they can heal during combat.”

Australia’s Guantanamo problem: the asylum seekers indefinitely detained on secret evidence without hope of release.

How to use game preorders as a bank.

Women don’t want to work in games, and other myths: perhaps the first piece I’ve read about women in the industry that’s actually, unapologetically, aimed at a female reader.

How we won the war on Dungeons and Dragons.

Tumblr of the week: Shit Private Eye Says

Poem of the week: Louis MacNeice, Snow

Free game of the week: Sleep

powered by TinyLetter


Pocket Lint #3: work and play

If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish weekly email you can sign up here or using the form below. I promise not to spam you.

The cult of overwork
“The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level.”

No, Jane Austen was not a game theorist
“This is a perfectly valid statement, as long as we ignore the accepted meaning of most of the words it contains.”

Airbnb stories
“If you read a heart-warming story promoted by someone with a vested interest, you’re being sold a bill of goods. It really is as simple as that.”

Very internet woman. Wow.
“Let’s agree that there is no “online” misogyny, just like there is no “date rape”. There is misogyny. There is rape. Where it happened has nothing to do with its impact. And it doesn’t help to quit the internet because it’s not about being on the internet. Violence against women is a cross-platform experience.”

How to make a start-up out of nothing
“It’s easy to forget that most start-ups have nothing to do with technology. These stable businesses do very well without glamorous magazine photoshoots or gambling with investors’ cash, and were paving the way for start-ups way before a start-up was even a thing.”

TL;DR: Choire Sicha
A superb and slightly scary Q&A with the founder of The Awl about the internet, writing and authorship online.

Arcade Review
A new publication of criticism of experimental games. It’s very good. Go get it.

The Journal of Game Criticism
A new non-profit, peer-reviewed, open-access journal of, well, game criticism. It’s also very good. Go look.

Praise the sun
“I, like many others, have spent my life resisting advice, resisting spoilers. “Don’t tell me!” “I can do it myself.” Dark Souls is a game that humbles you to the point where abandoning that train of thought is an absolute necessity. You must embrace help, embrace advice. Dark Souls is designed like that and it does something very unique: it encourages people to actually talk about the game without fear.”

Tumblr of the week: People Behaving Appropriately In Art Museums

Free game of the week: A Mother in Festerwood

powered by TinyLetter