Critically Endangered small

Open source social media and web content which 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.

Group: Digital Legal Records

Trend in 2021:

Unanimous Decision

Added to List: 2019

No Change

Previous classification: 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

Loss seems likely: by the time tools or techniques have been developed the material will likely have been lost.

Examples

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 journalist or investigating authority;

2021 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 supressing 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 stabilise content to private accounts in the process of investigating it: so the ethical requirements of social media companies and the integrity of investigation are both served. The Jury notes that such content remains 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.

Additional Jury Comments

Important for social context and maybe picked up through inadvertently in other ways - but is ambiguous about who has ultimate responsibility for collecting and preserving this.

See: Higgins, E. (2019). Bellingcat and beyond. The future for Bellingcat and online open source investigation, iPres Conference 2019, Amsterdam, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZAb7CVGmXM.


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