For every thousand words a photo tells, a thousand more are omitted. While the expectation remains that content published by a reputable news organization be both credible and true, not every photo circulated via the Internet represents an accurate depiction of reality — even with a label claiming it as so.
“The Internet keeps us more up to date as a society, whether that be good or bad,” said Matthew Zonis, a senior at American University. “But it’s a two-way street of a journalist being ethically inclined to post accurate, up-to-date and real information and people who have to [realize] that something posted on Tumblr does not have the same credibility as something posted on CNN or MSNBC or FOX.”
Blogger Adam Holland keeps watch for instances of falsity within the media. Holland had come across an image about a week ago, depicting an injured child laid out on a stretcher. The image had been retweeted by BBC Gaza and West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison who had added his own comment of “heartbreaking” to the original tweet reading “pain in Gaza.”
Through a Google browse, Holland traced the photo to the Egyptian news site, Elsaba7, referencing the same image as a “file photo” — a lead that eventually linked the photograph to one taken by Reuters on June 14, 2012, in Lebanon of a 6-year-old girl wounded in Syria.
Not in November. Nor in Gaza. And surely not at the hands of Israelis during the most recent attacks between Hamas and Israel.
Holland brought the inaccuracy to the attention of Donnison, who immediately removed his tweet, issuing an apology for the factual error.
“News services like the BBC have a practice of relying on local stringers for photos and videos of war zones,” Holland said. “We depend on [news services and reporters] to review this material before they publish it to verify its accuracy. When they fail to do this, they fail completely to do what they are supposed to do as journalists: report accurately.”
Ethics of journalism hold the value of credibility to high esteem, but the proliferation of news via the Internet sheds light on the fine line news organizations tread in attempt to release content as quickly as possible.
“The problem with the things that are folded on the Internet is that you can quickly lose the original source,” said Jane Hall, a journalism professor at American University. “Things can get forwarded awfully quickly. All you have is your credibility.”
An ordinary citizen, an interested viewer or a reputable reporter can all influence what goes viral on the Web. Images impact the framing and depiction of an event — from the images of innocent children marred at the hands of war, yet tagged under the wrong war, to photos depicting the severity of natural disasters. Recently, some images labeled as Hurricane Sandy were, in actuality, taken during a different storm or different day — or photoshopped altogether.
News organizations must hold themselves to a higher standard of accuracy, Holland said. For in the end, it’s for them to “verify that what they report is true,” he added.
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