Photo: Screenshot of a video from the Syrian conflict after it has been removed by YouTube. Screenshot taken from YouTube.
The most compelling evidence of a human rights violation captured on video can be lost if investigators do not save the video in question. YouTube videos are often removed, either by the uploader themself, or by YouTube because of violations of its community guidelines. It is thus most crucial for any researcher to first save any video that is being investigated. This is for preservation purposes only.
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:
Videos on YouTube are only showing the upload date, but not the exact time of upload. This can be important to find the original uploader of a video, and also helps to avoid confusion and incorrect claims about the upload date. The most prominent example for this was the false claim by Russian authorities that the chemical weapons attack in Syria from August 21, 2013, was staged, since some of the videos showed an upload date of August 20.
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.
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→
Panoramic images or photo mosaics from videos are often used in human rights research, and are especially useful for matching up visual features such as landmarks with satellite imagery. For example, Human Rights Watch used a photo mosaics in a January 2014 report on housing demolitions in Syria (see p. 22). A more detailed case study in the use of panoramic images can be found here.
For the following tutorial, I am using a video from Aleppo.