Category Archives: Case Studies

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

New York Times open source investigation into Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons attack

The New York Times recently conducted a detailed investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons attack in Syria, and they presented their findings in the video below.

Most importantly for researchers interested in open source investigations, Malachy Browne, who led the project, provided detailed insights into how they investigated the incident using open source and geospatial analysis. Continue reading New York Times open source investigation into Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons attack

Analysis of Sinai killing videos

A shocking video emerged at the end of last week, showing members of the Egyptian military apparently extrajudicially executing unarmed men. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch analysed the YouTube video and other open source information.

Information gathered by Amnesty International confirms that members of Egyptian military are responsible for at least seven unlawful killings, including shooting dead at point blank range an unarmed man and a 17-year-old child.  Continue reading Analysis of Sinai killing videos

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

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