How to work with Amateur web content?

Aurélie Aubert (Researcher)

Topics: Data collection , Ethics

The use of amateur web content needs to be assessed against the risk of using false, propagandistic or offensive information, or risking the safety of the informant.

This tipsheet discusses what journalism students should learn about content obtained from non-professional sources.

This tipsheet contains recommendations derived from point n°5 of the State Of The Art Report (the ten tips guide), p. 17:

“Schools of journalism have always worked with media professionals and companies. However, they should extend cooperation to non-media professionals associated to non-profit organizations, NGOs, associations and social networks. Through citizen journalism, participatory journalism, social networks, news is also produced by ordinary citizens, political activists or amateurs. The Arab springs or other recent social movements show that video documents made by “non-professionals” circulated in the social networks but were also broadcast on mainstream media, as they were the only source of information. This trend must therefore be taken into account by the schools of journalism as it questions the way to train newsmakers”.

Short description:

Professional journalists share the journalistic sphere with bloggers, citizen journalists, and social media users; traditional media enterprises are converging and new actors invest in the market (like Google), while different media are integrating.

The question toward our students is to ask if ethical standards are determined by a specific technology or new concurrent actors, or if these standards have to be the unchanging center of the profession.

The following sections of recommendations synthesize main principles when dealing with amateur content: evaluating the informative value of amateur web content; checking the authenticity of photos and videos; and maintaining the security of the informant.

Open Questions

Recommended resources / tools (links)

Topic / Learning outcome

Agence France Presse newsletter (in French) about information from social networks:

The document explains how to use information from social networks:

  • How to check a social network account?

  • How to quote a statement form a social network?

  • How to use twitter as an alert?

Process of certification

This link leads to a French academic study done on the process of certification on collaborative content conducted in the agency Citizenside (a French news agency which buys and sells amateur photos and videos to professional media).

From the blog “AFP Making of”:

How to appreciate an informative value about a web amateur content:

What to do with violent contents which are informative (terrorists propaganda for example):

The blog “AFP Making of" is written by some journalists from Agence France Presse: they give some testimony about their practices on images (in French)

Quotation from Michèle Leridon, director of information, AFP:

"We take a lot of precautions.

First: Always identify the source of the images, and explain that they were received in a very particular context.

Two: Do not enter the game of staging. That is why, unlike others, the AFP has released no videos of hostage beheadings. We have published a very small number of still images from the videos trying to make sure that they are the least degrading possible. We show the victim's face in close-up, face the executioner, and the face of the hostage presented as the next victim."

The Verification Handbook:

As the name states: A handbook (for journalists) on how to check and verify information, sources, people.

Guardian Project:

A project devoted to the development of apps for privacy/security purposes, such as the watermarking of images, emails and documents.


Example of a service that can show if a photo has been modified; it does so by browsing the web for similar copies of that photo. News organisations like AP and BBC use that service, amongst others.


Example of a product that helps revealing whether a photo has been modified; it does so by deeply analysing the data of the photo. It is being by e.g. the French news agency AFP.

Download | Amateur Web Content.pdf (77kb)

Amateur Web Content