Category Archives: Case Studies

How citizen video and free tech tools helped us expose war crimes in Nigeria

Previously published in New African Magazine and International Business Times – Also available in Spanish and French

In March 2014 a grainy cell phone video came across my desk that seemed to show a Nigerian soldier murdering an unarmed man in broad daylight. It took me a day and a half to pinpoint the location of this apparent war crime to a specific street corner in Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno and a city of more than 500,000 people.

Confirming the location of an incident is a crucial step in the authentication process, so finding this fact was highly relevant to reference the footage in a report we published on 31 March 2014, exposing war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian military and Boko Haram.  Continue reading How citizen video and free tech tools helped us expose war crimes in Nigeria

New Verification Handbook For Investigative Work

Good news for investigators: The European Journalism Center today published a handbook on how to use and verify user-generated content in in-depth investigations. It is a companion handbook to the original Verification Handbook, which focused on breaking news, and includes my chapter on using user-generated content in human rights investigations.

The need for such a resource is enormous. Both journalists and human rights investigators are increasingly confronted with a torrent of citizen media shared through digital social networks in real-time. The risks of overlooking relevant content or getting it outright wrong are very real. However, the benefits of effectively and ethically integrating open source materials into in-depth investigations are huge. Continue reading New Verification Handbook For Investigative Work

Syria Chemical Weapons Attack: Debunking Russia’s False Claim About Video Upload Date

Photo: Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons  (OPCW)-UN Chemical Weapons Team Arrives in Damascus.  October 1, 2013. © UN Photo by Hend Abdel Ghany.

Why is it sometimes important to extract the exact local upload time of a YouTube video? Besides being helpful to find the original video among a host of scraped videos, it can also be crucial to determine the exact timeline of a human rights related event. Getting these facts straight can have significant implications, as for example the Syrian chemical weapons attack from August 21, 2013, has shown.

In response to the attack, Russian authorities at one point claimed that it was a staged event:

“There are reports circulating on the Internet, in particular that the materials of the incident and accusations against government troops had been posted for several hours before the so-called attack. Thus, it was a pre-planned action.” – Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, August 23, 2013.

Continue reading Syria Chemical Weapons Attack: Debunking Russia’s False Claim About Video Upload Date

Cairo Clashes: Confirming the Location and Content of a Video

This case study was originally published in Verification Hanbdook: A definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency coverage

During the violent clashes in Cairo in August 2013 there was one particular YouTube video that received a lot of media attention. (The original video was subsequently removed from YouTube, but can also be viewed here.) The widely used description for this video, which for example appeared in the headline on a Washington Post blog post, was that protesters had pushed a police car off a bridge in Cairo.

Screenshot taken from washingtonpost.com
Screenshot taken from washingtonpost.com

Continue reading Cairo Clashes: Confirming the Location and Content of a Video

Verifying Citizen Video: A Case Study of Destruction from Aleppo

By Richard CozzensThis post was originally published on the WITNESS Blog

The quantity of citizen video emerging from the Syrian conflict, combined with the lack of professional journalists on the ground, has resulted in a massive amount of citizen media for researchers and journalists to sort through and analyze. In cases of videos that depict likely violations of international humanitarian law, the potential for them to be used as evidence is exciting but demands a process of authentication.  This is especially important since all sides of the conflict realize the power of shocking videos to bolster their own claims of victimhood or triumphalism and post or promote them accordingly.  The potential for media to be mis-attributed and then widely shared on social media emphasizes the vital importance of verification. Continue reading Verifying Citizen Video: A Case Study of Destruction from Aleppo