Finding the Original Source in a World of Aggregators, Shares, and Reposts

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member


When investigating dubious looking claims on the internet one of the most common challenges is in finding out where the claim actually came from. There are a very large number of sites that simply repeat the content that is on other sites. Sometimes they repeat it verbatim, but usually they will post excerpts, and add some commentary, and often link to their source of the story. Sometimes though they simply re-word the story, with a few quotes, so it's not really clear where it came from.

The key part of finding the original source of a claim is simply being familiar with the way stories spread. The evolution of stories can be though of as being something like a family tree - except for any given individual story, there is usually one parent story (although there can be two or more), and each individual can anywhere from one to hundreds of child stories.

But there are a few key things to try:
  • Look for links to the parent story. In aggregator sites these will usually be at the start or at the end of the story, but in the case of a story with multiple parents, then of then the links are inline, and sometimes just a link from a piece of text in the story.
  • If there are quotes, then Google the text of the quote.
  • If there are images, then use Google Image search, or TinEye, to find other versions of the story.
  • Check the subject of the story in Wikipedia - sometimes it's just a new story about an old topic
  • Do a Google search for key phrases in the story. The top stories listed will be closer to the original than random shared stories on Facebook.
  • Limit your searches to a specific date range, then sort the results by date
Keep digging as far back as you can, and as you do this make note of the way the story evolved over time. What have new version added? What do they omit? How does the headline change? What images are used? Are new images added? Are the images captioned correctly?

Consider this story about large blocks of stone in Russia

http://www.slavorum.org/megalithic-ruins-in-russia-the-largest-blocks-of-stone-ever/

The first version of the story we see is from a straightforward aggregator site. A site that largely repeats stories to try to get more traffic. In this case we can scroll to the bottom and see:

Which links us to:
http://www.infowars.com/newly-found...-the-largest-blocks-of-stone-ever-discovered/

Here the link (to "The Truth") is at the top of the story, and links to:
http://thetruthwins.com/archives/ne...n-the-largest-blocks-of-stone-ever-discovered

"The Truth" seems more like an original story, with multiple sources. But upon examination it's really blend of a Mysterious Universe article, and the parent of that article, a post by John Jensen, and then some of the parent articles that Jensen uses. Here's the most direct parent, the Mysterious Universe:
http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2014/02/super-megalithic-site-found-in-russia-natural-or-man-made/

Which links to John Jensen's site:
http://earthepochs.blogspot.com/2014/02/super-megaliths.html

Which gives as a reference "Valery Uvarov's Russian website", but no link. But a little googling leads us to the actual original source:
http://www.wands.ru/iicufi/pyramids-blog/246-gornaya-shoria-expedition-ru.html

Here at last we seem to have an original story - a first hand account of a trip to view some rock formations that the group though were not natural. This is also the source of many of the photos used in later versions.

What do do if the story you start at does not have a link to the parent? A quick jump up the family tree can be had by searching for a few key words in the story - location, peoples names, and topics are a good combination. Then the first few results from Google, if not the obscure original, will at least be aggregator and re-writing/hyping sites that commonly include links to sources. For example, here I search for "Shoria Megaliths", and (besides the Wikipedai entry, which was not that useful) the first results were very near the top of the family tree:



One thing you might notice when we look at the original story is that the photo used in the very first story is not present here. This photo of a man-made monolith in Baalbek, Lebanon:
[Which is actually a Wikipedia image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baalbek-stoneofpregnantwoman.jpg ]

That image was inserted into the family tree of the story by Michael Snyder in his composite story in "The Truth":
http://thetruthwins.com/archives/ne...n-the-largest-blocks-of-stone-ever-discovered

Now in context this is not too bad, he's just saying "here's another big block of stone, this one we know was man-made (unless it was aliens), but it's smaller than these Russian stones". But then later child version of this use the Baalbek photo without a label, and of course it gets assumed that it's part of the Russian site, and since it's very artificial looking, it lends weight to the idea that the other stones are artificial.

Search Based on Date Ranges

Sometime the "source link" tale goes cold, and you've got to rely on Google results. If it's a popular enough story there can be rather a lot of copies. An easy way to filter them into something more manageable is to set a date range in your search, and then sort the results by date. A quick place to start is one year ago, which will cut out any recent flurry of repeats of a newly-viral story. Ideal though you'd use the date of the oldest story you can fine (or if there are hundred from that date, then the day before that).

For example, if you search for "Super Megaliths Shoria", you get over 6,000 results. Click on "Search Tools", then "Any Time" (or whatever the current range is set to if you did this step already), then then "Custom range"

Then set a date in the past, you can just enter the year before you've see the story for a start,

20150607-085114-ew332.jpg

This narrows it down quite a bit. But also reveals a problem with Google dates. They are often wrong.



Pinterest was founded in 2010, so clearly that 2005 date is wrong. It's not always that clear cut though, so it's important to verify any date on Google by visiting the page. The 2009 date is also wrong, so 2013 seems to the year to focus on. And indeed the actual Russian expedition that the photos come from was in 2013.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What to do when you've found the original

So what can we tell when we arrive at the root story here? Well, besides the added Baalbek photo, the key thing I see is that the vast majority of the photos are very innocuous, just looking like perfectly normal rock formations that we see world-wide. The later stories cherry-pick these photos, showing only those that are the most unusual for certain angles. But the broader context shows it to be quite natural.

https://www.metabunk.org/data/MetaMirrorCache/20ee88430bbd3fdbbe67da2fb7a09b5c._.png

The above photo only shows up in the Russian parent story. Subsequent stories focus more and more on the occasional artificial looking rock, amplifying this interpretation until we get to the slavorum.org post, which posts a picture of an artificially carved rock, and passes it off as being part of this Russian crag, which is simply a nice example of the well known process of bedding (the horizontal divisions) and joints (the vertical).

And once you've got this broader perspective, it's easy to find some similar examples, like Almscliffe Crag in Yorkshire, England:
Great Almscliffe Crag by Mezzapod, on Flickr

Or Cracked Buttress, Brimham Rocks, UK

Source: http://www.summitpost.org/cracked-buttress/740246

Or the North buttress, Guisecliff, UK:

source: http://yorkalpineclub.org.uk/blogs/?p=2079

Or Pitchoff Chimney Cliff, in New York,

source: http://www.mountainproject.com/v/pitchoff-chimney-cliff/105984807
 

Attachments

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NoParty

Senior Member.
They had me at "Информация о существовании большого"

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 9.49.40 AM.png





In all seriousness...I've chased down a lot of stories over the years, Mick...
they aren't often this absurdly meandering to track down...nice example! :)
 

AltoidSBS

New Member
It's fascinating to watch how even true stories are changed, added to and misinterpreted as they go through the aggregation process.

Last year I wrote an article for my (relatively small) paper about a local teenager criminally accused of "desecrating" a religious statue by taking offensive photographs alongside it. While the state law the teen was charged under could technically carry a two-year jail sentence, that punishment was never in the cards and the prosecutor never suggested he would pursue such a serious sentence -- in fact, he specifically said otherwise.

But as the story made its way through the wire services, then the aggregator/clickbait sites, then political opinion sites and Twitter, the story changed: Now the prosecutor was demanding a two-year sentence. He was going to put this kid in jail for mocking a statue of Jesus, they claimed. While the law may well be unconstitutional and the prosecutor may well have deserved criticism, he was now bombarded with emails and phone calls decrying his decision to jail the kid -- a decision he had never made. I recall at least one foreign site claiming (possibly due to a language barrier) that the teenager was already in jail.

Sometimes watching news travel through the Internet is like playing the telephone game.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
It's fascinating to watch how even true stories are changed, added to and misinterpreted as they go through the aggregation process
what makes it even harder is, sometimes the original story has mistakes that were later fixed. its really hard to tell now adays which facts are the right facts!
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Sometimes watching news travel through the Internet is like playing the telephone game.
More often than not, unfortunately. Especially in the fringes of the "alternative" media, where finding a story bolsters that the narrative is a higher priority than accurate reporting.

And once a story has been repeated enough times, the repetitions outweigh the original, especially if the original is hard to find. For example, this story about alien structures on the moon references a "report" mentioned in "The Canadian" (which sounds like a national newspaper)
http://www.conspiracyclub.co/2015/05/05/moon-alien-base-china-releases-image/
There's no link to The Canadian, because "The Canadian" is just a pure aggregator site, and "The Report" was just the description on a YouTube video.
(Full details of that here: https://www.metabunk.org/threads/de...-of-alien-base-on-moon-hoax.6174/#post-151845 )
 
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SR1419

Senior Member.
The whole excersize points to fundamental critical thinking skills and understanding what is a fact, what is a claim, what is a source- understanding what is real information and not just hearsay or assertions purveyed as fact.

As @NoParty pointed out in another thread- there has been a cultural shift from minimal access to information to too much -trying to drink from a firehose and not understanding what you are drinking.
 

Pigeonkak

Member
I enjoyed following the process here. I would actually like to sit down with a CT one day at a pc and go through each source with them, in order until we reach the first source and reach the conclusions that it is bunk partially true or completely true. But how do I tie a CT down in a starbucks long enough?
 

Auldy

Senior Member.
Only yesterday I had to do something similar to debunk a "news" article a friend posted on Facebook.

Mainstream Media Stay Silent As Riots Erupt in London over Re-Election of David Cameron.

Firstly, I knew this was false because I had seen it covered on several news programs even down here in Australia, but my biggest beef was with the actual content of the article which, apart from its sensationalist headline, had nothing to do with how "mainstream media" hadn't covered the protests.

Unfortunately, the words and pictures on the article didn't have any sources, so I simply sleuthed by copying a paragraph and searching for it on google using " as a search operator to see if I could find the exact words on another page and go backwards from there.

But this is the punchline...

The first result I came up with was from an article by Reuters, covering the protests. :D

On top of that, I found hundreds of other news articles, which referenced the original Reuters report. hahahahaha.

So the mainstream media didn't cover the protests eh? And you plagiarised your words about the protests from mainstream media! hahaha.

I pointed this out to the person who shared it on Facebook. Her and her sympathisers were not impressed.
 
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Trailblazer

Moderator
Staff member
Only yesterday I had to do something similar to debunk a "news" article a friend posted on Facebook.

Mainstream Media Stay Silent As Riots Erupt in London over Re-Election of David Cameron.

Firstly, I knew this was false because I had seen it covered on several news programs even down here in Australia, but my biggest beef was with the actual content of the article which, apart from its sensationalist headline, had nothing to do with how "mainstream media" hadn't covered the protests.

Unfortunately, the words and pictures on the article didn't have any sources, so I simply sleuthed by copying a paragraph and searching for it on google using " as a search operator to see if I could find the exact words on another page and go backwards from there.

But this is the punchline...

The first result I came up with was from an article by Reuters, covering the protests. :D

On top of that, I found hundreds of other news articles, which referenced the original Reuters report. hahahahaha.

So the mainstream media didn't cover the protests eh? And you plagiarised your words about the protests from mainstream media! hahaha.

I pointed this out to the person who shared it on Facebook. Her and her sympathisers were not impressed.
"Scuffles"... not exactly Ferguson, is it?

(FWIW I work in central London and haven't seen any protest stronger than mild eye-rolling at the prospect of another five years of Dave.)
 

AltoidSBS

New Member
So the mainstream media didn't cover the protests eh? And you plagiarised your words about the protests from mainstream media! hahaha.
That's one of the tricks that really infuriates me, and it seems to be quite common among both left- and right-wing political clickbait sites. I'm sure nothing draws a reader in more than the idea of hidden or subversive information (it also explains the neverending banner ads that say, "Obama BANNED this YouTube video," etc).

Oh, and Mick's initial post reminded me:
There are a very large number of sites that simply repeat the content that is on other sites. Sometimes they repeat it verbatim, but usually they will post excerpts, and add some commentary, and often link to their source of the story.
To those of you in the UK who only know the Daily Mail as a sleazy right-wing tabloid, you might not know they're also one of the worst offenders in this category here in the US. The online-only US Daily Mail lives by reprinting stories from other news outlets. They've done this with mine a few times, and it's interesting to see their process: Rewrite the (preferably sleazy) story with no new information and several errors, look up the subjects on Facebook, toss some photos in and publish.

An interesting piece on their move to America: http://observer.com/2014/03/mailonline/
And another on their reprinting methods: http://tktk.gawker.com/my-year-ripping-off-the-web-with-the-daily-mail-online-1689453286
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Mutating headlines are one of the worst things in the way a story is retold. Most people get their takeaway of a story from the headline, and the text is just supporting bulk - if they read it at all. Look at the evolution of headlines over story generations:

1 - Report on the expedition to Mountain Shoria
2 - Super Megaliths
3 - Super-megalithic Site Found in Russia: Natural or Man-made
4&5 - Newly Found Megalithic Ruins in Russia Contain the Largest Blocks of Stone Ever Discovered
6 - Megalithic Ruins In Russia – The Largest Blocks Of Stone Ever
7+ - The Mysterious Russian Stonehenge
7+ Giant Megaliths in Russia Built by Giants?

And then a variety mentioning aliens, etc.
 

domerdel

New Member
This might not always apply to current/on-the-fly events (or most conspiracy theories), but check if the topic of discussion has sources that are scholarly / peer reviewed. Careful using Wikipedia; when I use it, I go directly to the references in the footnotes to see if it's viable/concrete.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
This might not always apply to current/on-the-fly events (or most conspiracy theories), but check if the topic of discussion has sources that are scholarly / peer reviewed. Careful using Wikipedia; when I use it, I go directly to the references in the footnotes to see if it's viable/concrete.
Yes, it's a bit of a mixed bag, especially with new and esoteric topics. In this case the Wikipedia entry was very poor:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gornaya_Shoria_megaliths
 

jonnyH

Senior Member.
Cracked buttres... buttcrack... ;):p
Since the choosing of questionable names for new climbing routes is a fairly old phenomenon I was a little disappointed to find that no one has named any of the routes on Cracked Buttress, "Buttcrack." However, next to Cracked Buttress is a rock known as the Virgin Boulder which features climbing routes called Hymen Traverse, Dick Hymen and Cherry Falls which perhaps gives some sort of indication as to how sophisticated some climbers' sense of humour is.

Editors of Climbing guides are fighting back against the filth though:
 

vooke

Active Member
You can also customize google searches say a week,month,year before your particular source. One thing embellishing can't do is
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
You can also customize google searches say a week,month,year before your particular source.
Yes, that's often useful. Unfortunately Google seemsto base the timestamp on metadata in the page, not when it first sees the page. So it often "backdates" things, especially if a page is recycled:


And sometimes you get semi-random dates:
 

Whitebeard

Senior Member.
Only yesterday I had to do something similar to debunk a "news" article a friend posted on Facebook.

Mainstream Media Stay Silent As Riots Erupt in London over Re-Election of David Cameron.

Firstly, I knew this was false because I had seen it covered on several news programs even down here in Australia, but my biggest beef was with the actual content of the article which, apart from its sensationalist headline, had nothing to do with how "mainstream media" hadn't covered the protests.

Unfortunately, the words and pictures on the article didn't have any sources, so I simply sleuthed by copying a paragraph and searching for it on google using " as a search operator to see if I could find the exact words on another page and go backwards from there.

But this is the punchline...

The first result I came up with was from an article by Reuters, covering the protests. :D

On top of that, I found hundreds of other news articles, which referenced the original Reuters report. hahahahaha.

So the mainstream media didn't cover the protests eh? And you plagiarised your words about the protests from mainstream media! hahaha.

I pointed this out to the person who shared it on Facebook. Her and her sympathisers were not impressed.
The situation wasn't helped by the fact BBC didn't carry the story on the main news bulletin, they had no need to, it was a big news day, both nationally and internationally, and whilst the protests were wide spread, they were small and localised (the one I attended in Bristol numbered about 200) and in the majority of cases passed without any incident. So hardly worth featuring on the national bulletins. Instead they were mentioned on the regional reports.
 

Chew

Senior Member.
Sometimes the people who make ridiculous claims don't bother morphing the story; they just change the title of the video.

nibiru doomsday on a budget 2.png
 

Efftup

Senior Member.
and that's all Sitchin;s fault, although it would be a DIFFERENT planet X theory if he had never been around.
 

Ignobility

New Member
Great site. Found after looking for anyone else with enough brains to put dutchnonsense in check. Finally!

Reason I am replying on this thread, is I did not notice a mention of a very valuable tool when attempting to ascertain source of the various internet fables that circulate and wind through the internet at light speed across the same collection of websites.

Because Google always returns results based on rankings, determining the when is as simple as doing a targeted date search so that the results are range bound. Using this method I have been able to easily find the nexus of certain stories, and you can then limit the range even further until you have it narrowed down to the exact website that first posted the story
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Because Google always returns results based on rankings, determining the when is as simple as doing a targeted date search so that the results are range bound. Using this method I have been able to easily find the nexus of certain stories, and you can then limit the range even further until you have it narrowed down to the exact website that first posted the story
Good idea. You can also sort the search results by date, so use the date target to chop off the most recent repeats of the story, then skip to the last page of the google results.
 

Ignobility

New Member
Good idea. You can also sort the search results by date, so use the date target to chop off the most recent repeats of the story, then skip to the last page of the google results.
Exactly! Just another great tool. I've seen someone post a story, and because of the source it gains credence, and using that method, ,found it was an old rehashed story from say RT, that was well over a month old with zero corroboration but a ton of internet buzz.
 
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