Verifying a video from social media
Having read Eliot Higgins’s “We are Bellingcat” (which is a capticating book to any Sherlock Holmes fan!), I wanted to test out some of their methodology. I mainly used the information gathered on Bellingcat’s Beginner’s Guide to Social Media Verification.
I followed their handy flow chart on the steps that you should take while doing verification:
- Originality: Was the image or video used before?
- Who? Who is the source of the photo or video online?
- Where? Where was the photo or video taken?
- When? When was the photo or video captured?
- Why? Why was it captured?
The social media piece to be verified
While browsing Twitter I saw a tweet about a Russian missile attack to Vinnytsia, Ukraine by Hanna Liubakova. It contained a video of the aftermath, and it showed a city square covered in black smoke. They referenced a local media report.
So, there were a couple of things that you could be thinking of the video based on the tweet.
- Where exactly was the video from? Is the alleged place (Vinnytsia, Ukraine) correct?
- When was the video taken?
Let’s go by checklist’s steps.
1. Originality: Was the image or video used before?
If the video was used before, I couldn’t really tell. I am not aware of any “reverse video searches” that could be done. So, in this case I decided not to use too much time on it. I also thought that it might come up later on some other points in the list.
2. Who: Who is the source of the video?
Hanna Liubakova, who is a Belarusian journalist. On their Twitter handle @HannaLiubakova, it shows that they have more than 100k followers, which could be seen to add to their credibility.
They also have a Wikipedia page Hanna Liubakova, which details how they have been pro-Ukraine and against Russia’s attack on Ukraine. They are not afraid to show it and have actually been driven to flee, because of Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko, who is close to Putin’s Russia.
So, based on these points and the tweet’s line “I wrote yesterday about Russia being a terrorist state. Every day, we see evidence”, I could deduce that they have a motive to highlight Russia’s crimes against the Ukrainian people. They seem like an actual person.
I could probably find more evidence such as a youtube video to link them specifically to the Twitter handle.
Result: Believable and most likely that the person if legit.
3. Where: Where was the video taken? (Geolocation)
Allegedly in Vinnytsia, Ukraine based only on the tweet’s text: “Russia attacked Vinnytsia, #Ukraine.”
From the video I captured two landmarks, which seemed notable to me.
- A statue of an airplane, which might make it easy to find the exact location (Picture 1.).
- A billboard with illegible text (which didn’t prove too useful) (Picture 2.).
Next to flag pole with Ukraine's flag, there is a airplane tipped slightly upwards with two arcs around it.
Billboard with an illegible header and text. It has a white background that's slashed by a triangle-shaped area of green. There is also a red textbox.
Just going to google a few things
Now we have some landmarks to find. I tried to find it simply by searching with terms “vinnytsia plane statue”. It returned a Tripadvisor review on a monument named “Monument in Honour of Ukraine Air Force Creation.” This seemed promising.
Moving on from the Tripadvisor review the monument should be located in Peremohy Square, which on the eastern side of the river going through Vinnytsia. The statue should depict a MiG-21 fighter jet.
I googled the name of the monument and found a Wikimedia entry about the MiG-21 fighter jet statue (image not described). You can locate it in Google Maps view by searching for the name of the monument (picture 3). It is also in the Peremohy Square and “Peremohy” means “Victory”. There are other squares in Ukrainian cities named the same – for example in Kyiv (Peremohy square, Google maps). Monument in Honour of Ukraine Air Force Creation and near House of Officer's, a concert hall. Behind it an office building. It is near a large street conjunction.
In addition, let’s compare the video footage (picture 4) and Google street view (picture 5). We can see that they are the same place. Monument in Honour of Ukraine Air Force Creation and behind it a partly destroyed office building covered in black smoke.
Monument in Honour of Ukraine Air Force Creation and behind it an office building that's intact. On the left a glimpse of the House of Officers, a concert hall.
Results of geolocation
The location is correct and it’s Vinnytsia, Ukraine.
More accurately it’s near the “Monument in honor of the Air Forces of Ukraine” at the Peremohy Square. The video was captured from the street of Kotsyubyns’koho Ave, and from the southern or southeastern side of the monument. You can check the specific Google street view of Kotsyubyns’koho Ave.
Near it is House of Officers’, which is a concert hall. Behind it is the office building that was hit.
4. When: When was the video captured? (Chronolocation)
For this I used Chronolocation guide by the user Sector035 (Medium post), since the original guide didn’t go much into the details on how to do it.
There are a couple of ways to figure out when the event took place.
There was no claim on when the even took place in the original tweet, so nothing from there. We can look at the posting date (14th of July) and considering that there wasn’t any news about it earlier than this day (the 14th of July 2022), one could assume that it was very recent. The weather
From the video it was obvious that it happened in daytime. The sky was partly cloudy and blue (picture 6). What about a specific date or the time in day?
Looking at the historical weather data from timeanddate.com, we could take a look at Vinnytsia’s weather from the past days (picture 7).
This doesn’t give us much: It couldn’t have been the 13th, since it was heavily overcast. It could have been some other day in the same week. I am leaning towards the 14th, because the news would have been out way before if it had happened before.
Time of day
Anyway, let’s continue to try to figure out the time of day. The video footage is low resolution, but on some parts of the video, you can see shadows are cast away from the camera (picture 8). If you check the video yourself, it might be easier to notice. A pedestrian roughly casts a shadow to north or northwest.
If the shadow is cast to the north or northwest, it means that the sun is in the opposite direction of south or southeast. We have to notice that the street, where the video was taken is actually at an angle to the monument. It is in such an angle that the shadows appear to be slightly more to the north than they actually are. This means that the time in video is more likely on the morning side than noon, so I would guess 9-12 – maybe closer to 12 than 9.
Result: Most likely it happened on the 14th of July and at around 9-12 o’clock.
5. Why: Why was the video captured?
The video was most likely taken to show the aftermath of the strike and how it has affected a central part of a city, where civilians are. It has been further circulated (news and the tweet) to highlight Russia’s actions against Ukraine. Retrospective: How did I do?
I am going to compare my findings to a Ukrainian news website Pravda (English version) and their news article Russians hit the centre of Vinnytsia with rockets... (Pravda).
The news article specifies the time when the missile strike was reported and confirmed, which was at 11:20 (quote 1).
Head of Vinnytsia Oblast Serhii Borzov confirmed at 11:20: “We have had a missile ‘arrival’ in Vinnytsia.”
The specific location wasn’t disclosed, but the article mentions the Officers’ House concert hall, which I determined to be at the scene (quote 2).
The Officers’ House and nearby residential buildings have also been damaged.”
It truly was at the monument.
I found the exact location and also did pretty well on the time estimation. Even though I couldn’t really be sure of the date, because the weather was the same for many days. Although seeing the many news articles that have come of the event, I can be sure that it happened on the 14th of July 2022.
Final thoughts for now
This is not a happy post. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is condemned by Finland and by its citizens – including me.
What I have done shows that it truly is possible for a layman to be doing fact checking based on open sources and the internet. It requires that one is rigorous in their methodology and first and foremost open how they did it. You should see the breadcrumb of sources that I have listed and also check them for yourself.
What could I have done better?
- The background check on the original tweet. I pretty much glossed over that.
- Specific date and time of the video wasn’t very rigorous – especially discussion about the angle of the shadows. The Chronolocation guide by the user Sector035 (Medium post) gives you much more information.
- In the end I trusted a news article to check how I had done, but I let that slide, because this is firstly an exercise to see if it can be done.
Please check out Eliot Higgins (Twitter) and his book “We are Bellingcat”. It really is that good.