How to Separate Truth From Falsehood in Conflict-Zone Footage

Not sure if that video from a conflict zone is real? There’s an app for that.

National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Kaveh Waddell
July 10, 2014, 1 a.m.

Foot­age up­loaded to You­Tube is a boon for hu­man-rights watch­ers, journ­al­ists, and oth­ers who need to know what’s go­ing on in parts of the world they can’t ac­cess. Videos of massive protests, nat­ur­al dis­asters, or bru­tal killings have brought cit­izen journ­al­ism in­to the main­stream, mak­ing grainy cell-phone videos an es­sen­tial way to con­vey the truth on the ground to those abroad. But re­cord­ing and shar­ing these videos is just as easy as fak­ing them.

A new web­site run by Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al is de­signed to help on­line users dis­tin­guish between real video and mis­lead­ing foot­age. The site, called the Cit­izen Evid­ence Lab, shows users how to veri­fy the au­then­ti­city of an on­line video with a step-by-step walk­through. The in­ter­act­ive tu­tori­al prompts users to ex­tract metadata from the video and com­pare parts of its con­tent to ex­ist­ing foot­age on the In­ter­net.

Take this ex­ample from the site. The Wash­ing­ton Post linked to a You­Tube video in Au­gust 2013 that shows an ar­mored po­lice van fall off a Cairo bridge, ap­par­ently pushed by Egyp­tian pro­test­ers. Chris­toph Ko­ettl, Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al’s emer­gency re­sponse man­ager, took a closer look at the in­cid­ent. He con­duc­ted a de­tailed search and found a second video of the same in­cid­ent, filmed from a high­er vant­age point, re­veal­ing that the po­lice vehicle that tumbled from the bridge first col­lided with an­oth­er vehicle — nobody pushed it. By com­par­ing land­marks vis­ible in the video with satel­lite im­agery from Google Maps and pho­tos from the in­cid­ent, Ko­ettl was able to pin­point where the van fell from the bridge, con­firm­ing that the foot­ages was in­deed taken in Cairo. The Post, which pos­ted the ori­gin­al video with the claim that the van had been pushed, later is­sued a cor­rec­tion with the second video.

But this kind of de­bunk­ing isn’t new. A com­pany called Story­ful has been veri­fy­ing In­ter­net videos since 2010, help­ing the press sift through the massive amounts of in­form­a­tion and me­dia avail­able on the so­cial web. To au­then­tic­ate videos com­ing out of Syr­ia, the com­pany re­lies on ex­perts on the ground and tricks like Ko­ettl’s. Story­ful then dis­trib­utes videos it has de­term­ined to be genu­ine to news­rooms around the world.

Earli­er this month, a Brit­ish blog­ger known on­line as Brown Moses (real name: Eli­ot Hig­gins) an­nounced he will be launch­ing a site called Bellingcat. Hig­gins be­came known in 2012 for his in­de­pend­ent work veri­fy­ing and col­lat­ing hun­dreds of You­Tube videos a day com­ing out of the the civil war in Syr­ia. He has be­come an oft-cited source for West­ern journ­al­ists cov­er­ing the con­flict.

The work that Cit­izen Evid­ence Lab users, Story­ful, and Hig­gins do — sep­ar­at­ing truth from false­hood in user-gen­er­ated video — will be­come more im­port­ant as video takes on a lar­ger role in con­flicts. As in Ir­aq, for ex­ample, where IS­IS re­lies on im­ages and videos dis­sem­in­ated on so­cial me­dia for pro­pa­ganda and scare tac­tics, journ­al­ists and act­iv­ists will al­ways need tools with which they can un­der­stand and con­tex­tu­al­ize user-gen­er­ated me­dia.

What We're Following See More »
INCLUDES WAIVER FOR MATTIS
Congress Releases Stopgap Funding Bill
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Congressional negotiators released a stopgap spending bill Tuesday night to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday and to fund federal agencies and programs through April 28." The 70-page continuing resolution includes $170 million to aid Flint, Michigan's water supply, and a waiver that would allow Ret. Gen. James Mattis to assume the role of secretary of Defense.

Source:
INTERSTATE COMPACT GAINING TRACTION
Democrats Explore Electoral College Changes
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"A number of Capitol Hill Democrats have revived proposals to reform or abolish the Electoral College," chief among Michigan's John Conyers, who "held a panel on Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss options for eliminating the Electoral College and replacing it with a system where a national popular vote elects the president. ... The plan with the most support to reform the election college at the panel was the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a proposal first developed in 2001 that would give the national popular vote winner the majority of electoral college votes through an agreement between the states."

Source:
EFFORT LIKELY TO DIE IN COMMITTEE
Jordan Can’t Force a Floor Vote on Impeaching Koskinen
15 hours ago
THE LATEST
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan attempted to force a floor vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, but "the House voted overwhelmingly to refer it to the Judiciary Committee. ... The committee will not be required to take up the resolution." Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "made a motion to table the resolution, which the House voted against by a 180-235 margin, mostly along party lines."
Source:
AFTER THE VOTE FOR SPEAKER
Ryan: No Committee Assignments Until New Year
20 hours ago
THE DETAILS

House Speaker Paul Ryan has decreed that House members "won’t receive their committee assignments until January — after they cast a public vote on the House floor for speaker. "The move has sparked behind-the-scenes grumbling from a handful of Ryan critics, who say the delay allows him and the Speaker-aligned Steering Committee to dole out committee assignments based on political loyalty rather than merit or expertise." The roll call to elect the speaker is set for Jan. 3, the first vote of the new Congress.

Source:
EXPECTED TO FUND THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH SPRING
Funding Bill To Be Released Tuesday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the government funding bill will be released on Tuesday. The bill is the last piece of legislation Congress needs to pass before leaving for the year and is expected to fund the government through the spring. The exact time date the bill would fund the government through is unclear, though it is expected to be in April or May.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login