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.

Group: Digital Legal Records

Trend in 2021:

Unanimous Decision

Added to List: 2019

Trend towards greater risk

Previous classification: 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

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


Social media sources relating to recent conflicts, such as in Ukraine.

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 journalist or investigating authority; materials presented and documented in court; court able to deliver preservation; authenticity protected

2021 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 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 now 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 2020 Jury notes that such content remains at risk, but 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 agrees with this assessment and endangered classification, but has changed the trend towards greater risk in light of recent developments in crowd-sourced investigation and fact-checking

Additional Jury Comments

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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