Completed Investigations Based on Open Source Intelligence Sources

   Endangered large

Open source social media and web content that has been used to support the conclusions of crowd-sourced investigation and fact-checking in political or military conflict.

Digital Species: Legal Data

Trend in 2022:

increased riskTrend towards greater risk

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2019

Trend in 2023:

No change No Change

Previously: 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 recent conflicts.

Critically Endangered in the presence of Aggravating Conditions

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

‘Vulnerable’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Offline backup captured by a journalist or investigating authority; materials presented and documented in court; court able to deliver preservation; authenticity protected.

2023 Review

This entry was added in 2019 and subsequently split into three elements by the Jury, relating to current, recent and historic sources. This entry relates to materials used in evidence in completed investigations, as well as those presented to courts or other investigatory agencies.

Social media companies have a policy to take down or suppress content that they consider propaganda for terrorist groups. This has had the unintended consequence of deleting or suppressing content used in open source investigation or fact-checking for journalistic or judicial purposes, which may impede refutation or prosecution. However, a new generation of cloud-based services now allows 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 2020 Jury noted that such content remains at risk. The presentation of data to a court or prosecuting authority, or the publication through news media, implies the introduction of a long-term preservation function. The 2021 Jury agreed with this assessment and Endangered classification but changed the 2021 trend towards greater risk in light of recent developments in crowd-sourced investigations and fact-checking. The 2022 Taskforce agreed on 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 Endangered classification with the overall risks remaining on the same basis as before (no change to the trend), noting that some of the description and language used in the entry may be confusing. For example, one might think if investigations are complete that surely the parts used as evidence or published in articles are captured elsewhere and presumably preserved there? While this may be the case, presuming long term preservation may lead to future loss in instances where this is not true. Here, risks can overlaps with those found in 'Evidence in Court' and 'Proceedings in Court' entries, which themselves indicate that standard records management processes within designated agencies should be able to take care of the preservation of materials like this but, given that it is likely to involve complex types of data, such agencies may not be equipped to deliver preservation effectively.

Additional Comments

The 2023 Council additionally recommend further scoping of the entry with input from those working with these materials directly, to help explain the unique challenges as well as examples where content has been lost due to deletion by social media companies and/or legal retention periods where certain content may not fall under the scope of records for long-term or permanent retention.

Case Studies or Examples:

  • The 2020 Medical Facilities Under Fire report by the Syrian Archive., which provides information on how The Syrian Archive and its partners (Syrians for Truth and Justice, Justice for Life) analyzed and verified pattern of attacks by cross referencing a combination of open-source visual content, flight observation data, and witness statements. Through collecting, verifying and reporting investigative findings from these incidents, the authors hope to preserve critical information that may be used for advocacy purposes or as evidence in future proceedings seeking legal accountability. See Syrian Archive (2017), ‘Medical Facilities Under Fire’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

See also:

  • 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]

  • European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) blog post providing a Q&A on ‘Using Open Source Investigations in Human Rights Litigation,’ noting their approach to gather and present evidence of Russian military presence in and around Ilovaisk in August 2014. See European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) (2022), ‘Q&A: USING OPEN SOURCE INVESTIGATIONS IN HUMAN RIGHTS LITIGATION’. Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

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