Still image taken from case study video originally uploaded to YouTube channel msaken hanano.

Editor’s note: From finding online video to fact-checking its claims, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response and Prevention Team provides a detailed look at the process of citizen video verification in this three-part blog series. Part 1 illustrates the factors involved in navigating the landscape of citizen video.  Part 2 covers how to corroborate the location in an online video by creating a panoramic image from video stills and Part 3 shows how to use tools like Google Maps to corroborate location in the videos through geo-location mapping.

By Richard Cozzens

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.

Groups like Witness and Storyful are leading the way in working to support citizen journalists and establish standards for verifying social media reports and videos. This three-part case study demonstrates how Amnesty International’s Crisis Response and Prevention Team uses citizen videos to monitor the war in Syria.

In this case study we are locating and verifying a video of apparent bombing damage in Aleppo in September of 2012. (The verification process is also detailed in this step-by-step video.)

Finding the video

The video we’ll discuss in this case study came from a search for videos from the Aleppo neighborhood of Masaken Hanano (the Hanano Residences, مساكن هنانو), a well-known densely populated residential district. The video comes  from a YouTube channel named  msaken hanano.  Although there is not much information provided about this channel, Syrian citizen YouTube channels are often named after the town or neighborhood in which they are based.  When a channel like this one has a number of videos all from the same location, it is much more likely that uploader is based in that place and is, in fact, the source of the video.

Among the most-watched videos from this channel, we find our case study video (embedded below) uploaded on September 9th, 2012:  The camera pans over a flattened 5-story building with people walking around and over it.  The written title of the video is “Masaken Hanano – Effects of the destruction 9/9/2012 – The result of warplanes” while the voice in the video says, “Aleppo, this is Masaken Hanano.  Warplanes are bombing the neighborhood.”

Our first step in verifying the location is to match up imagery from the frames of video with other imagery available online and via Google Earth.  In order to make visual comparisons with the video easier, we’ll go through how to make a composite panoramic image from frames of the video.  Creating such an image demands a certain amount of luck (or well-trained filmers): you need a segment of video in which the filmer does not move too much, does not use zoom much, and takes video from a wide enough field of view to show useful contextual information.

We walk through how to create the composite panoramic image in Part 2 which you can access here.

Richard Cozzens is an Arabic language teacher, translator and writer who volunteered with Amnesty International’s Crisis Reporting and Prevention Team. You can follow him on Twitter

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