A live camera broadcasting the view of Gaza City captures illuminated lines. Footage from a vehicle’s dashboard camera in Israel captures the approach of a killer. A satellite detects tank tracks on the ground, and a security camera at a mall captures the explosion of a bomb in Gaza.
Although journalists have limited access to the war in Gaza, there is an abundance of video footage from various sources that captures and portrays the actual events.
In news outlets, sorting through online content to verify its authenticity and uncovering unexpected leads to connect stories are becoming crucial tasks, which can also be emotionally taxing.
Katie Polglase, an investigative producer for CNN based in London, stated that it has become an essential aspect of practicing journalism in the current era.
Last week, CBS News shared the introduction of “CBS News Confirmed,” a team dedicated to utilizing data and technology to analyze online evidence. Similarly, earlier this year, the formation of the “BBC Verify” unit was announced to incorporate more open source reporting techniques into the global news organization.
The increase in this ability was particularly evident when The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The Associated Press conducted thorough examinations of video footage in an effort to determine the disputed reason behind a fatal explosion at Gaza’s al-Ahli Arab Hospital on October 17th.
There was not complete agreement, and there were reservations about making conclusions without being able to physically examine evidence on site.
In the past, audiences typically only witnessed the aftermath of a news event if television cameras were present. However, with the widespread use of smartphones equipped with video capabilities, simply seeing the aftermath is no longer sufficient. The focus is now on the present moment.
According to Wendy McMahon, president of CBS News and Stations, viewers now anticipate being involved in a collective viewing experience and keeping up with the news alongside anchors and reporters.
This involves sifting through a never-ending stream of video shared on platforms such as X (previously known as Twitter), YouTube, Instagram, Telegram, and Facebook. A lot of the content is distressing, with visuals of severely injured bodies, bloody children being rescued from debris, and individuals deeply affected by the death of their loved ones. The impact of repeatedly viewing such images is commonly referred to as “vicarious trauma” by those who regularly have to watch them.
Fighters are aware of the impact of these visuals, which is why some Hamas members wore cameras to capture their violent actions in Israel on October 7. In response, Israel has put together and has been sharing graphic images from that day with the media.
According to Rhona Tarrant, a senior editor at the investigative website Storyful, the level of complexity in the use of social media is high. There is an abundance of information and content available.
Media outlets are consistently balancing their responsibility to accurately present the truth with the worry that graphic content may be too distressing for audiences. Overexposure can numb viewers. However, there are instances where the continual coverage of conflict itself becomes a significant part of the narrative.
Through images that have appeared online in recent weeks, people “learned” about Bella Hadid, a model of Palestinian descent, denouncing Hamas’ attack in Israel; a row of supposed bodies of dead Palestinians covered in white shrouds where one mysteriously moved; and a Palestinian “actor” seriously wounded in a hospital bed one day and walking unharmed the next.
Nothing occurred. All of the pictures were fabricated.
A video of Hadid receiving an award for her activism in Lyme Disease was altered to give the impression that she was saying different words. The footage, originally from a 2013 protest in Egypt, showed a person moving their body. It was falsely claimed that this person was an actor, when in fact there were two different individuals involved. The video also included an image of one of the individuals in a hospital bed, which was used to introduce the start of a war.
The investigative abilities of journalists are crucial when analyzing videos. Many online sources are actually from previous conflicts, including those in Gaza, and are falsely portrayed as current events. Search engines are available to aid in verifying the accuracy of these claims. Occasionally, footage from video games is presented as reality, but professionals can typically identify them as fake.
According to McMahon, this conflict has validated our belief that news outlets would experience a surge in deep fakes and false information on a level unprecedented before.
Despite the widespread fear of the progress made in artificial intelligence, some specialists argue that its role in this conflict has been relatively minor, especially when compared to instances of old footage being presented as new. James Law, the editor-in-chief at Storyful, stated that there is a belief that AI is currently more advanced than it actually is.
Although disproving misinformation is a significant aspect of journalism, utilizing videos and other accessible resources, known as open-source reporting, has become increasingly prominent in recent weeks.
Storyful, which formed in 2009 to help news organizations make sense of all that is out there, is particularly adept at this new form of detective work. Its investigators use many tools, including mapping software, flight-tracking, security cameras, news agency videos.
According to Polglase, individuals frequently film footage that unintentionally includes remnants from a bomb explosion, which can potentially serve as evidence for a completely separate story.
Maps, video and audio from different sources can be pulled together for stories on how particular events unfolded, such as the Hamas attack on an outdoor concert the morning of Oct. 7. CNN’s investigation of this event, for example, illustrated how concertgoers were directed toward shelters they thought would be safe but turned out to be killing grounds.
The New York Times utilized video footage and Telegram messages to demonstrate how unfounded allegations of Israeli settlement in a Muslim region of Russia incited a violent mob to attack a plane.
The Washington Post utilized satellite images, video footage, and photographs to monitor the movements of Israeli forces as they entered Gaza. The BBC, through their coverage and investigative reporting, documented four locations in southern Gaza that were targeted by bombings. They also investigated the warnings given by Israel to civilians in these areas prior to the attacks.
As part of the “CBS News Confirmed” program, reporters with expertise in this type of reporting are being hired. In addition to focusing on particular topics, news outlets such as the AP and BBC are also providing training to journalists worldwide in various techniques.
However, there is a cost associated with some of this work. Media organizations have always been concerned about the well-being of journalists working in areas of conflict, but they are now realizing that constantly viewing distressing footage can take a toll on one’s emotional state.
Bellingcat, an investigative website, encourages its employees to prioritize their mental well-being. Social media critic Charlotte Maher suggests always questioning the necessity of viewing certain footage. Additionally, an expert recommends muting the audio after hearing it once, as it can be just as distressing as the visuals.
At Storyful, staff members are encouraged to openly discuss any personal struggles and make use of counseling resources if necessary. The underlying message is that there is no need to simply endure it. Tarrant states, “It definitely has an impact on the team.”
David Bauder, a journalist for The Associated Press, covers media topics. You can keep up with him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dbauder.