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English
Talk
Intermediate
Open Secrets: Crowdsourcing Russia's Wars in Ukraine and Syria

Short thesis

The conflict in eastern Ukraine was the first European war fought with the ubiquitous presence of the internet. With this war came a deluge of information, giving rise to dozens of amateur sleuths who compiled photographs and videos from social media to form coherent narratives. This presentation will explore the power of the crowd in collecting, verifying, and presenting data from Russia's wars in Ukraine and Syria.

Description

The conflict in eastern Ukraine was the first European war fought with the ubiquitous presence of the internet. With this war came a deluge of information, giving rise to dozens of amateur sleuths who compiled photographs and videos from social media to form coherent narratives. What may seem like an overwhelming amount of information that confuses narraties is what drives these new analysts, where all you need to be successful is a keen eye, Google Earth, and a Wordpress site.

These citizen journalists and analysts work from every side of the conflict -- pro-Russian, pro-Ukrainian, neutral, and everything in between. This talk will profile some of these individuals and groups, looking at how they use available information in Ukraine and Syria to build narratives and verify--or in some cases, misrepresent--information for their own ends. 

Two of Bellingcat's efforts to collect and crowdsource the verification of available photographic and video evidence will also be detailed. In one initiative, Bellingcat has used CheckDesk, a crowdsourced verification platform, and Silk, a data visualization platform, to collect, verify, and present data regarding Russian and Ukrainian military vehicles involved in the ongoing war. In the other, Bellingcat uses the same two platforms to collect information on airstrikes from U.S.-led coalition forces and the Russian military in Iraq and Syria. This Syria/Iraq airstrike project looks to verify the locations of the strikes, determine the true target of the strike (for example, when an "oil refinery" is actually a water treatment plant), and, if possible, determine how many civilian casualties were reported.

Ideally, traditional newsrooms will adopt some of these techniques in their own reporting methods, valuing the collection and verification of undertapped social media evidence to discover trends and tell another perspective in important events.