If you are interested and curious about what tools journalists can use to help with investigative work, you can learn from Craig Silverman, editor of BuzzFeed News.
As an investigative expert on misinformation and fake news, Silverman has written and edited a number of books to identify and expose media manipulation. One of which is Verication Handbook: A Definitive Guide to Verifying Digital Content for Emergency Coverage.
Days before Donald Trump's winning 2016 United States election, Silverman releases an investigative report that reveals how a small town in Macedonia has become a factory of political disinformation. Running more than 100 pro-Trump websites, Macedonian teenagers have succeeded in influencing American voters in significant numbers.
This year, Silverman focused his attention on the con artists exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic for commercial purposes.
In the webinar entitled "Reporting Covid-19 Disinformation"Held recently by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), he encouraged reporters - both those experienced with open-source intelligence (OSINT) or not - for the first time think about their search and the web pages they opened before moving on to more sophisticated tools.
Facebook pages, he argues, can provide very rich information about the builder of a particular page. Try checking out the Page Transparency box, suggestions about Related Pages, sidebar, URL, and the initial photos uploaded on the page.
"The problem is that there aren't many tools built for journalists because media offices don't have a lot of money," Silverman told GIJN.
Most of the tools it uses are designed for marketing practitioners or people working in the information security field. Because of this, journalists often have to learn to use tools built not for them and find out how to use them for their intended purpose.
As of May 2020, Silverman is using CrowdTangle to collect complaints about disinformation. At that time, found a Facebook post written by a nurse in Arizona. In the post, Eric Sartori wrote that he and his fellow nurses were subjected to online harassment and received death threats by groups claiming the coronavirus as a hoax that and never existed. Sartori is also accused of being a "crisis actor."
Silverman then tested the information online to determine if the man was indeed a nurse. He also later used Messenger to contact the man and interviewed him by phone.
The story isn't one of his greatest accomplishments, but Silverman is personally annoyed by the bullying in this case.
"For me, the idea that one of the most trusted professions in the world, nursing, is being attacked like this - where they now have to pay attention to their safety and become targets of disinformation - is a very disturbing one," Silverman said.
“Suddenly people called the nurses liars. This, for a nurse, is a very disturbing situation. I think this story is an attempt to humanize the victim of disinformation — which if not done will change the perception of a person most trusted profession in the United States for 17 consecutive years, "Said Silverman.
Tools Silverman Used for Investigation
- Video analysis: YouTube Data Viewer and InVID verification.
- Website analysis: Big Data Domain, Whoisology, and ViewDNS.
- Social media search: me, Followerwonk, and Twitonomy (Twitter analytics), Who posted what? (keyword search on Facebook), and Gramspy (Instagram search).
- Find people online: Name2Email, Spokeo (United States only), and Pipl.
- Online ad analysis: Moat.
- Photo analysis: TinEye and Yandex.
- Online history: Wayback Machine.
List of Tools for Investigating Media Manipulation
CrowdTangle. “Number one on this list is CrowdTangle. Searching with CrowdTangle is free, but you will need to create an account. You can filter by time, country, number of criteria to see if people are sharing on Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit. This tool is very helpful for finding what you want to look for. This is a very easy search tool. This is the best Facebook and Twitter search tool ever. If only this tool had existed in 2016 !, "said Silverman.
"I also suggest TweetDeck, because you can use very specific filters to search for specific hashtags or locations; this is the core of the surveillance tool. You can rely on TweetDeck or CrowdTangle, if Facebook and Twitter users in your area are high enough, ”Silverman explained.
DNSlytics. “If you want to know if a website is part of a larger network, DNSlytics can help to identify the person who runs it, or whether you have dealt with the site or not. This tool is very helpful in finding actors who are financially motivated because it tells you whether the same Google ad account is on another site, and then you can sniff out the motivation from that website.
“This tool has restrictions for free use. However, even if you have to pay, the price is not too expensive. You can subscribe with US$ 27 per month. You can enter a domain and get some IP information. Information about other sites that may share the same Google Analytics code and IP address is also available. You can enter your AdSense ID or a domain, and the tool will show you where it is connected. There are several other services that can do this, but in my opinion, this tool has a fairly good quality database, "Silverman said.
Hoaxy. "Hoaxy is a project from the University of Indiana. You can visualize Twitter conversations. If you're trying to figure out where a particular hashtag or conversation started, or who is the most influential person in it, then Hoaxy can really help. Most of Hoaxy's database is in English, but you can also search in 10 languages, including Arabic, Bangladeshi, Persian, Chinese and French. Not many reporters know about this, and this would be a great investigative tool, "Silverman said.
Advertising Spy Tool. If you focus on fraudulent products and counterfeit drugs for the coronavirus, you need to watch the ads. Advertising has become a giant machine driving counterfeit product and drug scams. People advertise on websites, in email, and in many other places, so you need automated help tracking them.
One great tracking tool is Adbeat.com. These tools can often catch some of the fraudulent advertisements that appear because they are targeting marketers. But this tool is quite expensive. Adbeat's subscription costs around US$250 / month. Another tool that works the same as Adbeat is WhatRunsWhere with a subscription fee of US$300 / month. (Rowan Philp, GIJN)
This article is an edit of an article entitled My Favorite Tools with BuzzFeed's Craig Silverman which was first published by Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN). Distribution of this paper is under license Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International. Jaring collaborates with GIJN to translate and publish regularly GIJN articles for capacity building of journalism in Indonesia