Elena Cabral: how journalists can monitor breaking news through user generated content

« Everything I’m about to tell you, I got it from researchers, and other journalists ». Elena Cabral, a former journalist herself, wanted to share her secrets this morning and teach how to turn TikTok into a powerful journalistic tool. 

© Nancy-Wangue MOUSSISSA

So what can TikTok do for journalists? First of all, its users « can constitute a pool of interesting sources, especially at a time when journalists can no longer infiltrate communities as closely as they used to« , explains Elena Cabral. 

Taking the example of the Trump electorate, little analyzed by the media but very present on TikTok, she explains that « the network gathers a stock of opinions, directly at the source, speaking with their words, at their pace ». « Even if they are people you wouldn’t have a drink with, you should still follow them, and include them into your work to provide context« , she adds. 

This ability of this media to capture images as close to the events as possible also makes it, since the pandemic, a valuable tool in the rapidly developing field of visual investigation. « TikTok not only has images, it has the first images », says Elena Cabral. 

« The Washington Post, for example, used an 8-minute video posted on TikTok to understand what had happened to the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh », says the teacher, and to establish that she had surely been killed by an Israeli bullet. This role as a source of raw footage continued during the Russian invasion of Ukraine: « videos from this conflict were so widely shared on this network that it was even referred to as a ‘TikTok war’« .

However, TikTok should not be used at all costs. « I share the concern about TikTok as a tool for misinformation. I want to explore its potential, but only if there are reliable means of verification« , the Columbia professor assures. For her, this verification « is the cornerstone of our profession in the digital age« . Author, location, date, reasons for the publication: the speaker goes through the long list of elements that must be established by the journalist before using these images. 


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