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In the Firing Line: How Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps changed official narratives through open source investigation

On April 14th 2017, a shooting occurred at the Manus Island Detention Centre in Papua New Guinea, where over 800 refugees and asylum seeker are detained by the Australian government. There were media reports that shots had been fired into the Centre — endangering the lives of those detained there. Manus Province police commissioner David Yapu didn’t agree. “The soldiers fired several gunshots on the air causing great fear and threats to the local and international community serving at the centre” he said, in the immediate aftermath of a shooting.

Amnesty International decided to conduct research that is presented in a report — In The Firing Line: Shooting at Australia’s Refugee Centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea — published on May 15th. After it was published, Commissioner Yapu changed his position. “Some of the shots were fired through the compound and some of the bullets penetrated through the walls”, he conceded the same day.

To write this report Amnesty’s usual research was supplemented by several photographs and pieces of video captured by refugees inside the camp that was evaluated by the Digital Verification Corps — a network of volunteers based at four global universities trained in the skills required to conduct verification. For Amnesty, being able to assess this content and authenticate where it was filmed added weight to the research it did into the events of April 14th.

In total, we reviewed 21 images and six videos believed to have originated from the Manus Refugee Centre that night. Some of these images and videos, originally coming from refugees, have already been aired on mainstream Australian media (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Fairfax), posted on social media, or shared by refugee advocates.

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