All posts by Christoph Koettl

In Digital Research, Things aren’t always what they seem

Reflections from Digital Verification Corps (DVC) volunteer Adebayo Okeowo

The cure for fake stories is to simply counter it with the truth. But then what happens when individuals with questionable motives create false news based on inaccurate facts? This will require more than just a critical eye and a sharp mind. It will entail special skills, which is the solution being offered by Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps (DVC), a team I am privileged to be a part of.

It was midday a couple of months ago in Pretoria as we gathered for the first time as a team. We sat in groups of three and silently observed a YouTube video on our laptops. We had one task: verify if the video showing an airstrike in Syria was authentic. We came to the conclusion that the video was authentic and had not been manipulated. However, there was a complication: the locals in the video had claimed that they recorded and uploaded the video the same day the strike took place. But the time stamp on YouTube showed a different date. Continue reading In Digital Research, Things aren’t always what they seem

Dissecting a US Airstrike in Syria

Cross-posted with Lemming Cliff

Amid the grey dust and twisted metal, the young girl discovered beneath the rubble of a destroyed building in Kafr Deryan, a small town 40km west of Aleppo, is barely visible. If you look closely enough, for a split second you can see her ponytail and hair tie before they disappear beneath the debris once more.

These images are among the strongest pieces of evidence pointing to civilian injuries and deaths that night as a result of a US-led Coalition strike that took place in the early hours of September 23, 2014. I was able to spot the girl at 1:46 of this video by repeatedly watching the video in slow motion.

The incident, which happened during the first night of US-led strikes in Syria, was captured by multiple cameras and shared on social media. Continue reading Dissecting a US Airstrike in Syria

DatNav: Researching Human Rights in the Digital Age

From online videos of war crimes, to satellite images of rights violations in areas as reclusive as North Korea, to eyewitness accounts disseminated on social media, we have access to more relevant data today than ever before.

These new data streams open up new opportunities for human rights documentation, and have a profound impact on how we conduct research at Amnesty International. For example, we recently used cell-phone video footage and satellite images to uncover a likely mass grave in Burundi. Due to lack of physical access, our work on Syria also relies heavily on content shared through social media and satellite image analysis. Continue reading DatNav: Researching Human Rights in the Digital Age

Job: Verification Corps Community Manager

Open source research and verification is becoming an increasingly important aspect of research, including for human rights groups. At Amnesty International, we have always relied on the amazing work of volunteers, something that will only expand in the digital age. Over the last couple of years, we had a small group of volunteers to help us with verification of social media content. Now we want to take this project to the next level and are hiring a part-time consultant to build up and manage this community. If you have experience with building active and resilient (online) networks and communities, and have an interest in digital verification work, this job is for you.

The Citizen Evidence Lab Verification Corps is a volunteer network of students, young professionals and other supporters that assist in the discovery and verification of open source content. The aim of the project is to support Amnesty International’s research function by creating a network of volunteers who can triage and validate images and videos of potential human rights abuses.

Download full consultancy description (pdf)

Analytical Framework For Citizen Media Research and Verification

In addition to working almost daily with citizen media and other open source content, I also give regular trainings for human rights researchers and journalists. Unfortunately, not too many training resources exist in this regard, especially materials that are tailored to human rights practitioners. An additional challenge is that many resources—including on this site—focus on specific tools, which tend to become outdated very quickly considering how fast this field is developing.

I thought it would thus be important to create a more in-depth resource for practitioners and students who want to become proficient in human rights research in the digital age. Most importantly, the time is ripe for a tool-independent analytical framework to analyze and verify citizen media, which I hope will help integrating citizen media into traditional human rights documentation. Continue reading Analytical Framework For Citizen Media Research and Verification

What’s in Store for the Citizen Evidence Lab in 2016?

A sincere thank you to the close to 50,000 readers who have visited our site since we launched in mid-2014. I hope you enjoyed our content, and I am trying to make an increased effort in 2016 to post more content after a pretty slow 2015. In my first posting of 2016, I wanted to give a short sneak preview of what I am planning this year:

  • Guest contributions: I strive to invite experts in this field to make regular contributions, and we are off to a good start with our recent guest post by Sam Dubberley on the important topic of secondary trauma.
  • In-depth content and papers: This month, I am going to publish—in partnership with Cambridge University’s Centre for Governance & Human Rights—a working paper on open source research and verification for human rights practitioners. Also planned are short guides on advanced social media research, and on using geospatial data for verification work.
  • Case studies: At Amnesty International, we work with citizen media on a weekly basis, and I’ll make an effort to share not only our output, but also how we review content and what we learn. A recent example of our verification work is our briefing on Russian airstrikes in Syria, for which we extensively reviewed citizen media and other open source content
  • Image verification: I worked increasingly with photographs over the last 12 months. There is a lot to share, so I am planning to provide more content on image verification, which so far has been missing from the site. This will include tips on EXIF analysis and review of other data related to photographs.
  • Volunteers: I also plan to increasingly work with volunteers, building on our Citizen Media Evidence Partnership pilot project.

Feel free to provide feedback in the comments sections, and let us know if you see any important gaps in the verification field that we might be able to address.