Open Source Intelligence Sources of Current Conflicts

   Critically Endangered small

Open source intelligence produced, collected and analysed from publicly, openly available social media and web content with the purpose of answering a specific intelligence question and that supports crowd-sourced investigation and fact-checking to verify or refute claims of state agencies and rebel groups in the context of current political or military conflict.

Digital Species: Legal Data

Trend in 2022:

increased risk Towards even greater risk

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2019

Trend in 2023:

No change No Change

Previously: Critically Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within twelve months, detailed assessment is a priority.

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on people and sectors around the world.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability

It would require a major effort to prevent or reduce losses in this group, possibly requiring the development of new preservation tools or techniques.


Social media sources relating to current conflicts, such as in Yemen or Syria.

‘Practically Extinct’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Loss of authenticity; lack of preservation agency; limited or no digital preservation capability.

‘Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Offline backup captured by the journalist or investigating authority.

2023 Review

This entry was added as a subset in 2019, as part of a broader ‘Open Source Intelligence Sources’ which the Jury split into three elements, relating to current, recent and historic sources. This entry relates in particular to materials relating to current and ongoing conflicts. Social media companies have a policy to take down or suppress content that they consider to be propaganda for terrorist groups. This has had the unintended consequence of deleting or suppressing content that was being used in open source investigation or fact-checking for journalistic or judicial purposes, and which may therefore be an impediment to refutation or prosecution. However, a new generation of cloud-based services, such as Hunchly, have emerged in the last few years, which allow investigators to copy and stabilize content to private accounts in the process of investigating it: so, the ethical requirements of social media companies and the integrity of the investigation are both served. The 2021 Jury noted that such content stays at risk, and the process of investigation is slower than algorithmic deletion. Nonetheless, there is a notable difference in the investigation of current conflicts than historic ones where evidence has been lost. The 2022 Taskforce identified a trend towards even greater risk based on the increased significance of crowd-sourced investigations and fact-checking in light of ongoing global conflicts that include (but are not limited to) those in Ukraine.

The 2023 Council agreed with the Critically Endangered classification with the overall risks remaining on the same basis as before (no change to the trend).

Additional Comments

The Council also added clarification to the meaning of ‘open source’ for this entry, to explain its meaning in relation to intelligence openly available online, noting that open source can also refer to a specific software or content licence that permits limited uses of IP so this distinction would be helpful for readers.

Preservation is important for social context and may be picked up inadvertently in other ways - but is ambiguous about who has ultimate responsibility for collecting and preserving this.


Case Studies or Examples:

  • The Ukraine Investigations by GLAN and Bellingcat Justice & Accountability project to investigate alleged atrocity crimes taking place in Ukraine. The aim of the project is to conduct a set of open source investigations into incidents causing civilian harm occurring in Ukraine according to robust legal standards with the aim of making them available to national and international prosecutors who are gathering evidence of alleged crimes. In this case, the open source content gathered during Bellingcat’s investigations will be preserved by Mnemonic, an independent third-party organization maintaining an archive of digital content from Ukraine, as it has done for Syria, Yemen and Sudan. See Glan and Bellingcat (n.d.), ‘Methodology for Online Open Source Investigations’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

See also:

  • The website of the Forensic Architecture (FA) research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, offers examples of OSINT. See Forensic Architecture (n.d.). Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • The website of the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA). The C2PA addresses the prevalence of misleading information online through the development of technical standards for certifying the source and history (or provenance) of media content. C2PA is a Joint Development Foundation project, formed through an alliance between Adobe, Arm, Intel, Microsoft and Truepic. See Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (n.d.). Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Baumhofer, E. and Reilly, B.F. (2022) ‘Preserving Open Source Digital Evidence: A Guide for Practitioners Working on Dealing with the Past’, Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Higgins, E. (2019) ‘Bellingcat and beyond. The future for Bellingcat and online open source investigation’, iPres Conference 2019, Amsterdam. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • Dubberley, S., and Ivens, G. (2022) ‘Outlining a Human-Rights Based Approach to Digital Open Source Investigations’, The Human Rights, Big Data and Technlogy Project. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

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