Berkeley students investigate war crimes using social media
Articles Blog

Berkeley students investigate war crimes using social media


(crowd shouting) – [Hossam] We just yesterday witnessed its strongest presence
in probably four decades. – I was living in Egypt in 2011 when the revolution happened. I was really moved by the risks that I saw every day citizens
take to stand up to authority and to document abuses by the authority. I certainly struggled
with guilt about leaving and this question of how
can I, from the sidelines, support the incredible
activism and not just leave and never look back. – At the Human Rights Investigations Lab, we train students to
comb through social media and other publicly accessible
platforms on the Internet to see if they can find evidence related to human rights abuses and to war crimes that are
happening around the world. You’d be amazed how often
videos are circulated and you’re being told that
this is actually Syria today when maybe it came from
Ethiopia five years ago. So a big piece of what
our students are doing is really fact checking. – [Andrea] This is SMARTNewsAgency. They depend on citizens
using their cells phones to go out and document
what is going on in Syria. This appears to be the
bombing of an aid convoy. Whenever I see cluster munitions, that is something we would
be particularly interested in because those are illegal
weapons in this conflict. The first thing I do is I
look at when it was published and I try to figure out if
that’s really the first time it was uploaded onto the Internet. Turns out this video was
uploaded for the first time here on YouTube on August 3rd. The other thing I start
doing is translating and trying to figure out
as much detail as possible. (speaking in foreign language) – [Andrea] They claim
that this attack happened towards the western entrance of this city. I’m gonna go to satellite
imagery now and start looking at the roads that are leading
from Al Atarib west. – So a lot of what you’ll find
I do, a lot of what I do– When we do training for
digital verification, a lot of people come along and
think there’s a silver bullet for verification, and
actually, there’s not. Probably the trickiest part of the whole verification
techniques we use is trying to work out exactly
where a photograph or video was actually taken or captured or filmed. Often it’s the most
important thing you can do. – [Andrea] So the goal is to make sure that this video is saved and that we analyze as much
information as possible from this video so that
hopefully, it can be used in a legal investigation
or one day in a case seeking legal accountability
for this attack. – To be able to have the
people who are already there sending information out,
either through videos that they post to YouTube or videos that they post to Facebook,
that means we’re hearing stories we’ve never actually heard before and wouldn’t have otherwise. One group that we’re working
with is the Syrian Archive. (phone ringing) (speaking in foreign language) – [Woman] Hey Hadi. – We have about 600 videos. Only related to chemical weapons attacks, but they are not satellites. What you are doing is the most important, is analyzing and doing
open source investigations, which we did not have the
capacity to do right now. – So I’ve gone back to work
on one of the convoy videos and I’m having a really hard
time really geolocating it, partly because it’s on
just a big rural road. – Just send me the materials
and we can work on it together. – [Andrea] Okay, thank you so much Hadi. I really appreciate this. – [Hadi] Welcome. – We all really love
working on your projects. They give us a lot of
meaning in our lives, so thank you so much. – Thank you. – No, thank you, thank you guys so much. (contemplative instrumental music) – I have probably found some coordinates that are where the bombing
for those trucks took place on August 3rd, 2016. There’s this really interesting
moment of excitement when you think you’ve really found it. And there’s a part of me
that is absolutely yearning for a lot more accountability and waiting to see what
happens with this information. – [Alexa] If you’re going after
the president of a country or a commanding general,
the last thing you want is these cases falling apart. Our students go through
the painstaking work of verifying so that courts
and human rights investigators knew how much they could
rely on that information and ultimately get those
stories out to the world. – [Sam] What I hope for Andrea
and for any of the students to take with them is just the
skills that they’ve gained, that they’re able to
disseminate that through work that they do for better social good. – The students who come
out of this are gonna be part of a pipeline that’s
never really existed before. And the potential for them to help various fields of practice is enormous. – It’s actually with this
work that I’ve kind of gotten rid of a lot of that guilt. This work allows me to feel like I can directly give something
back to the activists who take so much risk to document these human rights violations. (contemplative instrumental music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top