November 2, 2017 / 7:29 PM / a year ago

Sorting through fast-moving information

It’s a short, jerky piece of footage, filmed on what is usually a busy New York City highway near lower Manhattan. A suspect in a striped jacket, waving what appears to be a gun, dodges between yellow cabs, cars and a smashed-up truck as police officers try to arrest him.

A damaged school bus is seen at the scene of a pickup truck attack in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Sebastian Sobczak via REUTERS

Minutes after Sayfullo Saipov drove a truck down a bike path in the city on Tuesday, a Reuters team started collecting videos and images taken by bystanders during the deadly attack.

When news breaks, video and images captured by people on smartphones frequently drive news updates worldwide. At Reuters, social media producers in London, Mexico City, Beijing, Singapore, Amman and Gdynia, Poland, find, verify and get permission to distribute user-generated content to our news clients.

In images and video from Tuesday’s attack posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, we looked for clues and details to confirm the location, like the Chambers Street sign.

Reuters reviewed 36 videos and photographs depicting Tuesday’s incident – in real time – along with 12 more of the aftermath. Ultimately, we authenticated and cleared 10 pieces of content, including images of a school bus that was hit with children inside. We need to ensure the photograph was authentic, and that the faces of the children are not easily identifiable.

We managed to secure videos taken by two passersby who witnessed the destroyed school bus up close, moments after the crash, as well as video of victims on the ground before both witnesses were escorted away from the premises by police.

Reuters also used social media messaging to communicate with eyewitnesses who posted video or pictures, seeking accounts of what happened and consent to share their material. That is how we connected with Tawhid Kabir Xisan, who shot the 34-second video of the attacker.

Reuters has used similar newsgathering techniques since 2013. In recent months, we verified a photograph of La Vita Bella nursing home residents in waist-high water in Dickinson, Texas, during the flooding brought on by Hurricane Harvey in August.

After Mexico City was hit with a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, we checked to see that the timestamp on the user’s cellphone matched the minute of the earthquake when verifying a video showing the collapsing side walls of a high-rise government building.

Social media is a tool we use to augment our own reporting, often providing a more immediate and intimate view of news events. Unique images like the picture of Texas nursing home residents or the exact moment a building turns to rubble showcase the news value of social media in times when information and images are shared by more and more people.

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