As ‘Fake News’ Accusations Fly, UC Berkeley Students Verify And Document

By Emily Deruy
The Mercury News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Working with advocacy groups like Amnesty International, the students are part of the first university-based open source investigations lab to document and verify reports of human rights violations. They use social media and other tools to answer questions many people don’t think about before they hit share on a powerful photo.

BERKELEY, Calif.

As politicians in Washington and elsewhere throw allegations of “fake news” at reports that don’t fit their preferred narratives, a team of about 100 university students from around the world are wrapping up their first year of a program that helps strike back at those claims.

The University of California, Berkeley launched the first university-based open source investigations lab last year to document and verify reports of human rights violations for international advocacy organizations and courts.

The goal? To teach students from across the campus, computer scientists and lawyers, anthropologists and sociologists, to use social media and other tools to corroborate or disprove reports of abuses at refugee detention centers, dubious arms sales, and brutal murders around the world.

What started out as a small-scale project last year has grown to include students from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the University of Toronto in Canada and, soon, Cambridge University.

This week, they are meeting at UC Berkeley to share what they’ve learned.

Working with advocacy groups like Amnesty International, the students use social media and other tools to answer questions many people don’t think about before they hit share on a powerful photo. Was it really taken at a particular protest in a particular place? Is it really depicting what this person says it’s depicting?

The students are essentially detectives, using geolocation techniques and reverse image searches to piece together bulletproof information that will stand up in court or online.

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