When news of legendary Lebanese singer Sabah's death was announced on November 26, it didn't take long for the tributes, photos and memories to come pouring through social media channels. One of those images, posted by regional news website Al-Nahar Egypt, claimed to show the last moments of the iconic performer's life. Problem is: that same picture was floating around the Internet as early as February 2014.

It's an all-too-common problem that plagues media institutions in Lebanon and the surrounding region: the lack of fact checking and verification when it comes to news stories. And thanks to the ever-increasing range of social media, once a story or image is shared, it has the potential to spread like wildfire with almost no - if any - oversight.

(Image via tech4relief.com)

That's why SMEX (Social Media Exchange) launched the Taakad campaign in October. Taakad means "to verify" in English. The campaign, launched in collaboration with Meedan and supported by the web platform Checkdesk, invited journalists and bloggers to log on to the web and make a record of questionable news stories found in both Arabic and English, and record them online as a way to raise awareness about the issue.

By unquestionably sharing content and taking it at face value, 'Huge numbers of Lebanese internet users make posts or pictures credible when they're not," blogger Alaa Abi Raad, who worked on the campaign, told Beirut.com. “The information posted from any media institution in Lebanon gets shared like crazy online, without [anyone] even checking the source or credibility, and it unfortunately becomes ‘news.'"

The picture is the main problem, insists Abi Raad: “Posts do not get shared or retweeted as much as pictures; pictures make more of an impact. And once one trends, everyone joins in automatically, especially if it’s related to the person’s emotions or political preferences.”

Journalist and Beirut Report editor-blogger Habib Battah also posted during the Taakad campaign, calling it "a tool to point out the stories that were not covered well, [to ask] the questions that were not [originally] asked, and to [investigate] questionable sources." Battah says that in Lebanon, there is no investigative journalism, adding that the reporting “is superficial most of the time, when it should instead be transparent and accountable." He also criticized “the laziness that shows in the work published."

Joining Taakad is easy and free. Just log in and create an account on smex.checkdesk.org, and you can start adding stories or pictures you think are worthy of closer investigation.

The campaign officially ended in November, but Abi Raad stressed to Beirut.com that they'll keep working on it and posting news to make the site evolve. He provided these words of caution to Lebanese on the web: slow down and think twice before sharing something on social media. You can help Lebanon create a more transparent, accountable and credible media.

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