We often get news about conflict zones directly from video uploaded by onlookers who aren't journalists. But are those images real scenes or faked propaganda? Amnesty International now has a site to help viewers do the detective work to find out.
The ongoing civil war in Syria is the latest example of how frequently—and convincingly—fake videos are released. This footage that purported to show Syrian soldiers beating detained protesters was actually shot in Lebanon four years earlier. Still, it was aired by several major news networks. And this disturbing video of a reporter in the custody of Syrian extremists was later revealed to be a fake. It was released on YouTube by an unknown source, who was traced back to social media accounts sympathetic to the Assad regime. The video was likely distributed to dramatize the regime's case that terrorists had infiltrated Syria.
Videos such as these are what motivated Amnesty International to launch its Citizen Evidence Lab, which is:
intended to support human rights researchers and advocates to better take advantage of the new digital data-streams emanating from conflict zones and other human rights hot spots. It is an online space to share best practices, techniques and tools for authenticating user-generated content for human rights defense.
Central to the site is a step-by-step checklist that includes such questions as: When was the YouTube account created? Do previous posts from the account come from the same geographic area?
Tutorials include how to capture a frame and search for other versions on the Web and how to match video footage with imagery from Google Earth. Also included are case studies and an extensive reading list.
Even people who become skilled at these techniques should be aware that there will always be instances that require extensive experience and special knowledge. The New York Times tells the story of how one fake video was exposed by a weapons expert:
According to an analysis by a curator at a British arms museum, the 11 men were each holding a TD-2007, a Chinese-made toy replica of the MP-5 submachine gun, marketed as appropriate for children above the age of 5. To each, the men had affixed an extension — perhaps a painted dowel or a section of pipe — masquerading as a long barrel.
The curator, Jonathan Ferguson of the Royal Armories, in Leeds, said the outsize barrels gave the game away. "If they hadn't done this, we probably wouldn't have noticed that they weren't armed with real guns."