Footage uploaded to YouTube is a boon for human-rights watchers, journalists, and others who need to know what's going on in parts of the world they can't access. Videos of massive protests, natural disasters, or brutal killings have brought citizen journalism into the mainstream, making grainy cell-phone videos an essential way to convey the truth on the ground to those abroad. But recording and sharing these videos is just as easy as faking them.
A new website run by Amnesty International is designed to help online users distinguish between real video and misleading footage. The site, called the Citizen Evidence Lab, shows users how to verify the authenticity of an online video with a step-by-step walkthrough. The interactive tutorial prompts users to extract metadata from the video and compare parts of its content to existing footage on the Internet.
Take this example from the site. The Washington Post linked to a YouTube video in August 2013 that shows an armored police van fall off a Cairo bridge, apparently pushed by Egyptian protesters. Christoph Koettl, Amnesty International's emergency response manager, took a closer look at the incident. He conducted a detailed search and found a second video of the same incident, filmed from a higher vantage point, revealing that the police vehicle that tumbled from the bridge first collided with another vehicle — nobody pushed it. By comparing landmarks visible in the video with satellite imagery from Google Maps and photos from the incident, Koettl was able to pinpoint where the van fell from the bridge, confirming that the footages was indeed taken in Cairo. The Post, which posted the original video with the claim that the van had been pushed, later issued a correction with the second video.