Inside Story

The perils of global news exchange

From images of murder to global hoaxes, how did social media shape the news agenda in 2013?

There has been an explosion of online pictures and information, billions of hours of video for everyone to see and share, but not all of it is true – and some of it is harmful.

From images of murder to global hoaxes, how did social media shape our news agenda in 2013?

As the new year begins, we have been taking a look back at some of the online videos that went viral in 2013, and the news stories behind them.


by ”Rachel

are looking for is you may not have your people, your journalists on the ground, but how do you develop that network of trust so at least you have the ability to cross reference stuff the best way you can, and you have respected and repeat sources that you can then post verify to say ‘well they were right the last time, and are more likely to be right this time’.”]

YouTube says that for every minute of the past year, 100 hours of footage was uploaded on its website – that is a lot of footage.

Information and pictures can sweep through the world at a touch of a button. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean news can reach millions in just a second.

In May 2013, one of the most horrific murders ever to be shown on television news was committed in broad daylight in London.

Soldier Lee Rigby was run over by a car, then attacked by machete-wielding assailants who tried to decapitate him. The whole incident was captured by street CCTV cameras, and subsequently shown on national television news.

There were hundreds of complaints over the images, which showed one of the attackers with bloodstained hands.

And in September, gunmen attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, beginning a siege which lasted for three days.

Security footage from inside the mall showed gunmen stalking people through the shops, families trying to escape in some cases by playing dead; and armed police hunting the attackers. The footage went viral as soon as it was released.

Earlier in the year, on April 15, the Boston marathon came under attack – and it was all captured on camera – not just CCTV, but people’s smart phones and cameras.

And the media went into overdrive. But the bombings were just the beginning. As the investigation unfolded, the hunt for suspects Tamerlan and Dzokjar Tsarnaev happened in real time.

But without editorial control, without context, can this global news exchange actually be harmful?

The war in Syria is accepted to be one of the hardest conflicts to cover because reporters are not on the ground. Information coming to us is often from witnesses or human rights groups, or from the government.

Images from conflict zones like Syria are uploaded regularly on to the Internet by activists. And in turn, they are shown pretty much every day by news organisations around the world, including Al Jazeera.

But even when the pictures seem authentic, we still cannot be 100 percent sure where the pictures have come from, or even if they are current. And that means we cannot be 100 percent sure of what is going on.

So, should such pictures be shown, even with a warning that they cannot be verified? The trouble with footage that cannot be verified is that it could very well be false.

And should every picture, however distressing or personal, be available to watch? Or should there be more control?

Inside Story, with presenter Shiulie Ghosh, is joined by guests: Richard Gizbert, presenter for Al Jazeera’s programme Listening Post; and Rachel Clarke, head of engagement intelligence, Momentum WorldWide, a global marketing agency.

“What are we going to do? What’s the alternative? Do we ignore these images? How do we deal with them? There’s a number of things at play here – not only have the authorities in Damascus tried to keep international journalists out of there to the best of their abilities, not only are news organisations shrinking … and they have fewer and fewer resources with which to even try to cover conventional wars but Syria is a propaganda battlefield, in the same way that Libya and Tunisia and Egypt were before, in the Arab Spring.”

“We do the same we do on every story, we do the best we can to authenticate it. One of the things that Syria has thrown up that we didn’t see in Egypt, we didn’t see in Libya before is that you have this series of middlemen now that exist, sort of clearing houses for videos …. They may have an agenda but we know how to deal with them, we’ve dealt with them before, and when new video comes out of Aleppo or out of Hama, we’ll get in touch with those middlemen and we’ll say, ‘ok what can you tell us about this source, all we can see is a Twitter handle, we don’t know who it is or if it’s an organisation or whatever’…”

Richard Gizbert, presenter for Al Jazeera’s programme Listening Post