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Anatomy of a Killing (twitter.com)
768 points by danso 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 172 comments

It's fascinating to me that all the information required for the analysis is publicly available. This seems like a big shift from an era when only an intelligence agency would have been able to perform this sort of analysis.

The "open source intelligence" report on the MH17 incident -- where people found social media videos of the Buk missile proceeding through the countryside before being used to down the passenger jet -- was super interesting in a similar vein: https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2015/10/08/mh1...

There are plenty of people doing open source data gathering and investigations. It's pretty interesting. Bellingcat is one of such orgs.

You can find a lot of individuals and small orgs on Twitter doing stuff like spotting military ships and their cargo, spotting drones on satellite imagery, collecting lists of destroyed heavy weapons, listing ATGM attacks, airstrike victims (airwars.com), geolocating videos/pictures posted to social media, colleting info on chemical attacks (bellingcat), collecting and publishing ISIS documents online, recreating 3D models of some events from public videos/photos, etc.

One example of 3D modelling (they call it forensic architecutre) based on open source data is in this report on Douma attack:


> There are plenty of people doing open source data gathering and investigations. It's pretty interesting. Bellingcat is one of such orgs.

Bellingcat is also a great example of what it shouldn't be. Most of what is produced is misleading at best. Some of the core "experts" (i.e Dan Kaszeta) are closer to propaganda generators than genuine researchers or informed sources.

I dunno, I'm exposed to Bellingcat only via the work of Elliot Higgins, so I'm not able to judge other contributors for myself. But it's very frequent to call people's work propaganda these days, just because someone disagrees. So unless you have more info, it doesn't mean much.

Higgins is the person who groomed Kaszeta, together they formed the theory behind hexamine being used as an acid scavenger on the first Sarin chemical attacks attributed to the Syrian government. Together they tried to take on MIT's Postol and others who found it ridiculous (and implausible at best).

If you followed Higgins prior to Bellingcat (back when he was "Brown Moses") you'd know he had a strong bias for the rebellion which has since just turned into a strong anti-government bias, strong interventionalism and explicitly anti-Russian.

A great example of how their bias slips into their analyses is examples like the fake sniper boy[0] which fooled a lot of anti-government "experts" to the point where people like Higgins tried to organise witch hunts against the scene director.

[0] https://journal-neo.org/2014/11/27/what-the-fake-syria-snipe...

While I agree I see personal bias in what he writes on Twitter, I'd hardly call it pro-rebel. Anti-government (more like anti-syrian regime), sure. It show in the choice of topics. But the question is how much it shows in the analysis itself.

As for Hexamine/Sarin attack/Postol issue: Hexamine was found in Sarin attacks by OPCW, it was declared by Syria to OPCW. Postol is not a chemist, nor CW expert, nor on the ground, nor very credible wrt his claims about Syrian chemical attacks, as several of his claims were already rejected by OPCW, who found Syrian regime responsible for the April 4 2017 attack (Postol had all kinds of theories about this attack). I prefer OPCW's conculsions to some random profesor's taking sides and judging from a distance.


You quoted Partisangirl, and I just can't take her seriously as an unbiased source either. Just one recent example of clear bias: Despite big civilian protests last few weeks in Idlib, she only tweeted one picture of some marching jihadists. She's very clearly pro assad-regime, at the expense of truth, accuracy, and peoples lives for that matter.

So yeah, Higgins is biased, but quoting other biased, non-expert sources doesn't really improve the matters.

Re: fake sniper. The experiment can be both revealing of reporting bias and highly irresponsible. People criticized the irresponsibility angle at the time. Witch hunt seems to be your interpretation.

I cited that article about the existence of the fake sniper video, just because "fake sniper boy" doesn't mean much on its own. That's it. I could have used any other link.

I appreciate that you might have issues with the author of that article but it's not what I was going for. It's unfair to suggest that I'm quoting biased sources when I didn't quote them, just merely wanted to provide context of which video I was talking about.

Interesting - looks like I follow bellingcat, but I can't remember why. Have you got any information on bias or counter points?

I know of them through their work on the Skripal poisoners' passports (uncovering evidence that they're GRU agents).


A lead investigator on this is also with Bellingcat


There was that one time when /pol/ gathered information that lead to a russian airstrike on some faction in syria.

Source? I find this hard to believe.

This is not valid evidence, but rather conjecture from the board itself. It is however what he referred to. https://m.imgur.com/gallery/5P1N1GI

This was a good blog at the time that did a reasonable effort compiling information from various sources. It was interesting how much could be gathered from the social media accounts of various soldiers and mercenaries. Note that it was tracking Russian vehicle movements before MH-17.


Fascinating indeed. However, the main question remained unanswered (and unasked). Who ordered the killings?

I imagine that is what the actual court will flush out. They will all squeal for better deals during sentencing or pleas. No one wants to spend the rest of their life in an improversed hot Cameroonian jail.

If you like this then you’ll appreciate these guys:


Well not really, the first piece of the puzzle was a tip-off from a Cameroonian source. The mountain range match was corroboration.

A brilliant piece of work to place the location.

On the other hand, this seems to be...below...the BBC:

"The government statement makes clear that all these men enjoy the presumption of innocence, and that they will be given a fair trial."

"The two women killed outside Zelevet received no trial at all.

"No presumption of innocence was extended to the children who died with them."

Perhaps these short-enough-for-Twitter statements aren't ideal, because they can easily be construed as demanding retribution without due process. But the righteous indignation doesn't seem out of place. Not only are the killings themselves shocking, but the BBC alleges that the Cameroonian government was itself complicit in the cover-up by calling the viral video "fake news", and putting the burden of investigating its own military onto outsiders.

The BBC could have worded its closing tweet more clearly, but I don't think it's wrong for them to reiterate how rich it is for the Cameroonian gov't to make promises of fair trials when it seems to have done its damndest to avoid bringing justice at all.

I think even BBC is entitled to a certain amount of indignation after having watched a video where a lovely 9-year old girl is blindfolded and then shot.

Seems fine, unless you read it as them arguing that they should not be given a fair trial; I read it the opposite way, as them arguing that the women and children should have been.

> Seems fine, unless you read it as them arguing that they should not be given a fair trial.

That is exactly what the BBC tweets suggest to me.

And conversely, that idea didn't even occur to me, in the slightest, when I read those tweets. To me it's crystal clear that it's an expression of indignation at three civilians being murdered by way of comparison to the rights that the accused soldiers will receive, not a complaint that the government is giving them a fair trial.

Communication is inexact.

Agree entirely. I viewed that as a series of statements showing the inequality. Not stating that the unfairness should be applied to the accused soldiers.

Four people. Two children and their mothers.

The statements in the article are objective facts. Seeing an argument in them is your own work.

Of course, If I were to take your comment as a criticism of the article, I would be doing the same thing.


(of a newspaper, editor, or broadcasting organization) make comments or express opinions rather than just report the news

News isnt to tell us how to feel. That's a pretty serious rule to break.

> News isnt to tell us how to feel. That's a pretty serious rule to break.

Where did you make that up?

Most news agencies claim, on paper, to aim for impartiality. Emotional response tends to be the opposite of impartial reporting since emotions generally imply a moral response to something, which in turn is quickly stepping away from impartiality.

[1] BBC: Impartiality lies at the core of the BBC's commitment to its audiences.

[2] NPR: Our journalists conduct their work with honesty and respect, and they strive to be both independent and impartial in their efforts.

[3] SPJ (society of professional journalists): Journalists Should: ... Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

Many newspapers are archived online. It's really phenomenal to see the change in historic and modern reporting. For instance this [4] is the NYT's reporting on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war that immediately followed. Keep in mind that this was shortly prior to the mass production of incredibly dehumanizing propaganda and us rounding up hundreds of thousands of people in the west coast who even looked remotely Japanese, telling them to take all they could carry, and throwing them into concentration camps. The point here is to emphasize what the zeitgeist was at that moment in time, yet their reporting remained remarkably true to the ethics most media still claims to hold to, yet rarely practice -- NYT now included among them.

[1] - https://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/bbc-edi...

[2] - http://ethics.npr.org/

[3] - https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

[4] - https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/general...

> Emotional response tends to be the opposite of impartial reporting

"Impartial" is not the same as "unemotional". Part of the job of the news is to put what happens in context—not just what happened, but why it matters. News organizations aren't striving to be unfeeling automatons merely spitting out facts.

Here [1] are a wide variety of other articles from the NYT covering famous events throughout history. I think you'll find that the incredible reputation they built up was indeed driven by striving to do little other than impartially report on the facts. Which, in the past, they did an excellent job of. It sounds simple, but in many ways it's perhaps the hardest thing to do. Both from a business perspective, and from a human one.

This [2] is an absolutely phenomenal article by Robert Kaiser, "The Bad News About the News." Kaiser worked at the Washington Post for more than 50 years as a reporter and editor, leaving only shortly after Bezos purchased the company. It gets into all the facets of the rise and fall of the media, and why things have changed so markedly. I don't really think I can do it justice with cliff notes, other than to give it a strong recommendation if you're really interested in the history of all of this.

[1] - https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/ref/opinion/samp...

[2] - http://csweb.brookings.edu/content/research/essays/2014/bad-...

Emotions don't imply moral response. Emotions may be caused also by empathy, fear, threat, gain and so on. Impartial and independent are not the same as insisting that "both sides are the same" either.

In here, it is a reported a fact that killed women and children received no trial and no presumption of innocence. It highlights asymmetry between trial soldiers will (theoretically) receive and what they have done. That is perfectly fine.

If the reporting made you feel like what soldiers did is symmetrical to them being on trial, then the reporting would be biased.

> Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

That does not imply consumer should feel neutral about those repugnant views. If consumers feel neutral after hearing repugnant views, then journalist sugarcoated those views to make them look more innocent then they are.

Impartial reporting does not mean trying to make the reader remain emotionless or avoid coming to judgement. Facts themselves will frequently stir strong emotions. For instance in this incident even the most impartial reporting of the facts is likely to leave most readers with nothing short of disgust for the alleged offenders. The facts speak for themselves.

An excellent resource I linked above is this [1]. That's a series of historic articles from the NYT on famous events throughout history. You'll invariably find quite impartial articles, yet the facts themselves again speak quite loudly. This [2], for instance, is their reporting on the sinking of the Titanic. That is just an incredible piece of reporting. And though there are absolutely 0 emotional cues used or even implied, one can nonetheless 'feel' the story through the facts alone.

[1] - https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/ref/opinion/samp...

[2] - https://static01.nyt.com/packages/pdf/archives/Disasters-Tit...

That has only loose assotiation to the rest of thread. Also, new yourk times articles you linked are in opinion section. Literally, opinions.

The titanic report has assumptions in it and its introduction is designed to evoke feels. Not much emotional, but hardly less then topic at hand.

Media has a responsibility to present all facts impartially. But that does not mean that news media don't also have a responsibility to put those facts into context. Especially when it concerns the weak vs the strong (civilian victims vs violent government). That is what they are doing here. There is no encouragement to mete out revenge. It is juxtaposing the due process the alleged perpetrators will face with the lack of due process their victims suffered.

By the same token, if soldiers alleged of a war crime were found to have suffered from a miscarriage of justice, I'd expect the BBC to cover that side too—and I expect they would.

Those final statements on the Twitter thread stuck out for me too - they seemed a little incongruous. But they're taken (as is the entire thread) from the BBC Africa video, where they actually make perfect sense as the closing remarks.


I'm not sure whether it's the medium (Twitter), or the lack of editing that makes them jar in the thread.

I watched the video; they seem to have the same sense there as they do on Twitter.

I don't actually think the BBC is suggesting the soldiers should be executed out of hand, but I think it weakens the story---I don't need the interpretation, thanks.

You won't make such statements if you saw the complete video.

To kill unarmed women and children? Sheesh, what would you have written in place of those?

Part of a fair trial is making sure you're fingering the right murderers. To convict an innocent person for a horrific crime is not justice.

If it's done with airstrikes, then this is tragically routine.

"The government statement makes clear that all these men were arrested, and that they will be given a trial."

See, you just ditch "enjoy" and "fair" parts and it goes neutral. You don't have to be neutral, but news do.

Neither of those words are adding what you think they are adding to that sentence

I’m pretty sure that I can distinguish neutral from emotional.

> See, you just ditch "enjoy" and "fair" parts and it goes neutral.

That the trial is fair is important, and should not be ditched or glossed over.

But the Cameroonian government statement includes those words. Ditch them and it becomes inaccurate, or at least incomplete, reporting.

It did, but in a different tone. I understand the quoted letter as a sarcastic “they ‘enjoy’ it but that will not last long”. And then reporter takes these words and puts them in a sense of “a government makes clear that they will enjoy poi and fair trial” literally, as if government liked that and “fair” meant “good for them”. That seems like standard low-grade journalism, and like it was done here. Not that we shall not forgive that, but still.

To "enjoy" something can just mean to have the benefit of it. I don't think either the government statement or the BBC's quote meant to imply that the men would be literally enjoying themselves.

Every single word of that is true. It is exactly what should be said.

> "No presumption of innocence was extended to the children who died with them."

So, would it be better if they held a trial and then killed them?

Does anyone believe that their innocence or otherwise has anything to do with them being killed?

Are there circumstances that make you think that the killing of children is OK?

It's at least a non-sequitur, possibly self-aggrandising yellow journalism and at worst it could be taken as a start at justification.

Sentences like these give me the creeps.

You know what gives me the creeps? People who watch that video and read those facts and choose to focus on the tone of the closing tweet.

Why? It's worth pointing out. Just because some topic is emotionally heavy, doesn't mean other aspects of it can't or shouldn't be pointed out. It bothers me when someone may make a noteworthy point, and then someone else tries to make some inference on how they feel in general by compliment of what they didn't reference.

It bothers me because of a widespread and damaging tendency to focus on second order ethical issues rather than the main point. Instead of talking about what actually happened, people talk about how what happened is presented or the precise words that are chosen, how the same thing happened elsewhere in a way that attempts to make the speaker appear a hypocrite, or the identity of the person who presented it.

This happens all the time in the media and politics, and often involves deliberately uncharitable interpretations of what was said.


It's a bit like "Responding to Tone":


Killing children is horrific. It doesn't need to be repeated.

Using hackneyed phrases cheapens the reaction.

Well-put. To state that our ethical standard must be vigilantly maintained goes without saying. To put the treatment of these cold-blooded killers first is unnerving at best.

I feel the story would have been stronger without the cheap emotional shot at the end.

They used Google Earth in this podcast episode too: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/podcasts/caliphate-transc... (Caliphate).

Some other interesting investigative materials from the same podcast (Warning: may contain violence/nsfw etc):



Similarly impressive placing of the location: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vw9zyxm860Q

Those are facts, not opinions. What's the issue?

Incredible bit of analysis and presentation.

It's hard to watch this sort of footage for me now. Once upon a time when I was younger I could handle it, but with young children the same sort of age it really tears me apart. Though, I think people should be forced to confront it, because it's the only way it's ever going to improve.

Yes, this is one of the things that most surprised me about having kids. I know it sounds trite and insufferable to say "I didn't understand until I had children", but I have totally lost the ability to deal with seeing anything involving harm to children. It really came home to me a few years ago when I was watching the news and literally burst into tears when this image came on[1]. I'd never had anything like that happen before, and I was really shocked at my reaction. Even now, searching for that link, I found it hard to keep it together. I saw the BBC thread when it was first posted, and it's an incredible piece of reporting, but I was very careful to not watch the video.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Alan_Kurdi

Don't worry, it's not just you - I also react very strongly to images or descriptions like that. Pretty sure this only started when I had kids of my own.

Totally. In terms of handling it, there was a French horror film "Inside" which is very good but involves attacking a pregnant woman. After having kids I found I just couldn't stomach it, which was a change. Same for Sicario's child murder scene which I found just terribly lazy and desperate to be "edgy" and all these rave reviews just pissed me off. Having kids definitely over sensitized me.. in a good way.

There was a Frontline show about life in North Korea, they follow some folks who sneak into North Korea and try to distribute food / money to the poor.

One child about 5 or 6 they meet says his mom had to go to the next town to work and had to leave him ... she never came back.

The little boy tells the story as directly as a 5 year old would tell it, he is homeless with no family fending for himself in the streets.

At the time my oldest was 5.... I can't get that child's voice and image out of my head.

Game of Thrones too. My wife can't watch it, and despite reading the books, I find the constant over-the-top ultraviolence pretty unwatchable too. When I was younger I would have loved it.

Yep -- same with 'Macbeth' for me [the Macduff castle scene] -- especially the recent Stewart version

My brother died a rather pointless death at age 22. The buddha teaches us that all things are temporary. Stoicism teaches us not to worry about things we have no control over. If you can grok these two concepts then you will be well armored against the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune. https://aeon.co/essays/do-not-weep-for-your-dead-how-to-mour...

> but with young children the same sort of age

Same for me, just one thing:

> Though, I think people should be forced to confront it, because it's the only way it's ever going to improve.

Assuming you can't force anyone to feel empathy, you'd be punishing (and demoralizing) the emphatic and annoying (at best) those that don't care.

Be careful what you want to force on others.

Indeed. I meant that in a less literal sense.

Was thinking more about it for myself - these innocent kids were mercilessly killed, and I should at least take the time to acknowledge their suffering, even if it’s uncomfortable for me.

> Though, I think people should be forced to confront it, because it's the only way it's ever going to improve.

I'm conflicted about this.

On one hand I agree, and the news performs a vital service in exposing us to the terrible things in our world that we should try to fix.

But on the other, too much news can numb and demoralize you. The US political news cycle is a good example of this too. I can only stand so much of it before having to tune out for a while, even though I want to engage to the extent that I am able.

More important than watching the news is choosing a good couple of charities to donate to, IMO.

This is one example of routine acts committed by Cameroon’s military especially in the English-speaking regions. No reaction from international community. Instead, the west is asking Cameroon to investigate. They’re basically asking Cameroon govt to cover up its atrocities.

Video clearly shows Cameroon military shooting at mother with children. Same as hundreds of other incidents. What’s there to investigate?

Condemn the actions and let the govt face consequences.

Interesting. When I was in the US Naval Academy, I had a Camaroonean roommate that was going to go to the academy, then become an officer of his homeland's military. I wonder if the US military is still training Cameroonian officers today.

Not sure what years you went through but I remember we had one (about a decade ago).

I think the issue is that they're doing our dirty work, and if we condemn them, we might get less cooperation against Al-Shabaab/AQIM.

While I'm sure no one is happy with this, the war on terror is a dirty war and our partners are less than ethical.

Cameroon has not ratified the treaty joining it to the international criminal court. This puts it along with a very small number of other states where there isn't an international legal process for dealing with this kind of crime.

I can't imagine this kind of analysis carrying much weight in 3-5 years as advances in machine learning and image manipulation turn the notion of "seeing is believing" on its head.

edit: Imagine running this process in reverse. Pick the culprit, time, and location. Then arrange the scene to exactly match the false accusation.

Probably didn't happen here, but in a few years it won't be possible to know the difference.

I disagree that "deepfakes" will be unverifiable. There is very robust forensic framework for analyzing videos for authenticity, and it often relies not just on the visual component but all the other vectors that open up as a result-EM waves being generated, audio analysis, etc. A deepfake that passes this analytical function would imply that we will not be seeing advancements in digital forensics due to AI, which does not make sense because there is no reason not to update forensic processes to keep up with changing technology.

That seems like a plausible argument, but there’s a huge portion of the population that’ll willingly believe any realistic-looking video they see, regardless of the evidence. That could have fatal consequences, e.g. as happened with the Planned Parenthood video in 2015. [0]

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_Parenthood_2015_unde...

It doesn't even have to be realistic, people will believe outrageous claims or lies that conflict current video evidence because it fits a narrative they want to be true.

It seems that trying to actually determine what's true as opposed to just attempting to frame issues in support of your team (or what you already currently believe to be true) is a relatively rare quality.

I guess the silver lining is that while high quality fake videos may make things worse, there's already a pretty deep divide between people who will try and figure out what's true and people who don't. Higher quality fakes may only grab a small percentage of additional people.

I agree. People supported a war in Iraq based largely on cartoonish photoshops of mobile nuclear weapons labs in ice cream trucks.

If there is a program which output the authenticity of input, Can't we use that to further improve the NN? Eventually, given enough computation, trained NN reliably output videos even the said program can't bust.

I see a dark future ahead of us.

This is the ideas behind GANs and progress is reliant upon the generator and discriminator generally can't get too far ahead of one another

No darker than the past. Although, to be fair, the past was pretty dark.

I keep meaning to write up a longer form version of this idea that I've been kicking around to solve this.

This issue is often talked about as an unsolvable problem, but I feel like we already have the technology to deal with it.

Lots of devices, such as an iPhone already have a secure enclave that can be used for identity. Why not use this to sign videos and images for authentication purposes?

Then certain devices can produce verified, undoctored images and videos. Or even allow some amount of limited tweaking, and editing while attesting to the original.

This could be embedded into the file produced, like exif data, and read by services like Facebook and Twitter to badge the image/video as verified and undoctored. This could improve the amature case significantly.

Professional photography and video equipment could have similar capabilities so originals could be produced and proven to be genuine.

I guess this idea still depends on the hardware devices remaining secure, which is far from trivial, but it does increase the cost of producing a fake. And to keep producing really good fakes, you have to have a zero day to fake a genuine signature, or it becomes know that any media produced with that device version is suspect.

If such a system became widly adopted, at the very least, savvy users, and the media would be suspect of anything not signed. And perhaps the general public would also learn to be skeptical, particularly if the issue of fakes became more widespread.

Haha I was also thinking about using an HSM module to sign videos [1]. I think the problem is that anyone can just record a projector screen and replay audio through some speakers, and then Facebook and Twitter will still badge the video as verified and undoctored. You could detect this by analyzing the video and audio, but then it's just an arms race with machine learning.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18074425

If you really want to produce propaganda, it's possible and plausible to build optics that will project arbitrary pixels directly onto the sensor of a phone camera. It's expensive and tricky, but it's a one-off expense and small compared to known intelligence projects. The phone can be secure, unmodified, but still be "convinced" of a false reality.

Furthermore, who controls the keys? The device manufacturers definitely will have access to them (since the signing keys need to be put in the device), and it's not that you need to convince the world that it came from my phone (where you might need to extract a secret from it), you need to convince that the key came from a phone. Once the major governments get a bunch of fake keys that would have/could have been put in a real phone of a major manufacturer, you either admit the inability to discriminate propaganda or you have to automatically distrust all media produced from all phones of that manufacturer, which won't happen, the public will look at such media and believe it or not depending on whether it matches their opinion, not depending on its signature.

I think it remains unsolvable: you cannot plug the analog hole. Hardware device can be as secure as you like, but you can record your fake output to sign it and it suddenly becomes very genuine, I don't think it bumps the cost sufficiently.

> Pick the culprit, time, and location. Then arrange the scene to exactly match the false accusation.

Ah yes, but I logged on to Facebook at 8:12am and scrolled my news feed for a moment when I clicked a Chevrolet ad at exactly 8:15am (Facebook knows). I watched the video for exactly 12 seconds (Facebook still knows), then texted to my wife at 8:16am that we should think about getting a new car. I open up Reddit and log in at 8:17am and comment in /r/cars at 8:25 (Reddit knows). I started my Tesla at 8:32am and drove for 28 minutes (Tesla knows) to a Whole Foods, where I saved the location of my parked car (at almost exactly 9:00am) and entered the store. Grabbed a cold brew in a can and paid with my Visa card at 9:04 am (Visa knows), then walked to my office building and badged in through the door at 9:18 (my company knows), just in time to log on to the corporate network and send off a couple e-mails at 9:25, 9:26, and 9:29am. My whole day is tracked, timestamped and corroborated by third-parties already!

If we were able to easily collate the data that our workplaces, our GPS, our phones have on us it would be virtually impossible to place someone in a place they are not! And to go full dystopian, it's not too big a stretch to imagine the government would love to have exactly this.

It's not that it will be impossible to detect (they probably will be for quite some time) as it's about nature of dissemination - you first see fake, and only in its echoes you possibly see the truth.

Now, problem is, if fakes are easy to make, there'll be more of them, particulary if they generate impressions and spread faster than rebutals. And as space of fakes is infinite compared to space of truth, with advanced tools, it can be concocted in such a way that falsifying it might be lengthy process. And, in some cases there, it may be too late.

I submitted basically this:


to YC this year. Definitely something that needs thinking about

That's awesome! Haha I also have a repo like this, where I was putting together some research around identity and zero-knowledge proofs: https://github.com/ndbroadbent/sessionproof

Zero-knowledge proofs might also have some applications for multimedia verification.

I think you're probably right.

I wonder if smartphone makers could include some kind of hardware chip to verify the authenticity of videos. I don't think it's possible to build an unbreakable solution, but you could just make it very expensive.

The camera device could use a chip that included an HSM module, and it could use steganography to create verifiable videos. Each private key could be tied to a unique device ID in the maker's database. This might even be a legitimate use for blockchain. The device maker could create chainpoint proofs that include device IDs and public keys and embed them in Bitcoin transactions.

The HSM would be tamper-resistant, so it would be very expensive to extract the private key from the chip, or you'd have to collude with the device maker.

All of this is a moot point if you can just jailbreak the phone, fake the GPS and accelerometer data, put the camera in front of a screen, and play some audio into the microphones. I wonder if there are ways to detect video and audio that have been replayed through a projector/speaker instead of recorded in the real world. It's probably difficult to get it pixel perfect and replay perfect audio, and a neural net could probably be trained to spot any errors. Or maybe the projector/audio chip makers could include some steganography in their output. They might include an undetectable signal to indicate that this data is being replayed through a device, instead of recorded in the real world.

But then if someone wanted to commit a crime and get away with it, they could reverse engineer the signals from these projector/audio chips, and play those in the background. So any recorded videos could be discounted as a fake.

Also, I was thinking about how this could be used to prevent piracy when people record the screens in a movie theater. The studios could include a signal in the video, and the smartphone/video camera makers could stop recording when they detect that signal. But then a criminal could just hold up a screen with some copyrighted content, and everyone's phones and security cameras would stop recording.

If phones ever come with light-field cameras, it would also be a lot harder to fake. We'd have to invent realistic light-field projectors, but that would be pretty awesome. I've always wanted a holodeck.

This has been fun to think about. Would make some interesting Black Mirror episodes.

Even if they get the image manipulation perfect there will be lots of other ways to double check. Like if the featured video was fake there'd quite likely be evidence that some of the people were elsewhere at the time, or victims still alive and so forth.

It all comes back to the original tip from a "Cameroonian source." Without that, they wouldn't have only had a ridgeline somewhere in (probably) Cameroon.

That's a good point.

Makes me wonder if that 2D mountain range projection could be used to 'search' through a 3D map for a match.

Coincidentally, I had exactly just that thought about a week ago whilst I was staring out at a nearby mountain.

I have very little knowledge about this kind of problem, but to me, it seems like a solvable problem - there has been some interesting work in reconstructing 3D models from photographs of objects (I have a friend who did his masters in something similar) and I don't doubt that people working on that type of problem would likely have some ideas for approaching this one.

Though to make it tractable one would perhaps want to "weight" the algorithm / start the search from likely vantage points (i.e. from inside cities / on top of buildings, and along roads), and take some discrete samples of what the mountain range would look like at various angles from that point.

I wonder if it would be possible to do something similar to a binary search or Newton's method type thing where if you have two nearby points looking at the same mountain range, you could figure out the probability that the actual vantage point lies somewhere in the vague area between those points, and so get a better idea of where to take more precise samples after you've started with a few discrete samples.

This should be a tractable problem. Cruise missiles navigate by matching the terrain they're flying by with a 3d model.

Doing it with 2d video and not having precise starting coordinates, speed/heading/altitude makes the search space larger but I think that is more than made up for by the fact that you're not trying to do it all on embedded hardware from the 80s.

That mountain ridge trick, how reliable of an identifier is that? I'm not really questioning the validity of its use in this situation, but I'd be curious to know more about the nature of the ridge to gps coordinates mapping. How many ridges map to more than one gps coordinate (albeit at potentially very distant locations, one of which could be excluded if more information is available)? Or is the mapping completely injective? That'd be really cool, a bit surprising, but not infeasible.

Sounds like a fun data science project. (Draw a ridge and get a google street view image whose horizon matches the ridge as closely as possible, maybe? Might be fun to play with!)

I think they mention they located the mountains not from the ridge outline, but from a tip-off they received about where it all happened, and then they corroborated that tip against the ridge outline, building placement, roads, etc.

> After a tip off from a Cameroonian source, we found an exact match for that ridge line on Google Earth

I imagine it depends on the resolution. Taking it to the extremes you can imagine the horizon matched by 2 points a straight line slope. That may match many ridgelines. To the other extreme you can imagine a resolution down to the millimeter of the ridge. Catching every stone and tree. I can't imagine many duplicate ridgelines there.

Try the peakfinder app. I think it works pretty well but haven't tested extensively.

In the original video form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G9S-eoLgX4

Just in case anyone else is as confused as I was, if you don't hit "play" on the picture of the ridge-line, you won't see the match. Or maybe I'm the only one who was wondering how that could be considered a match, until I figured out to do that.

This answers all the questions but why.

You get to that stage after this one; this part tells you where to look, but to get to the reasons you need boots on the ground talking to the involved people. Possibly after capturing them, which seems to have happened after this investigation.

Does it really matter? That's not the way to deal with even the most vicious of criminals, let alone his child.

Yes it does matter. Tremendously.

For example is this soldiers initiative or part of a general tactics encouraged by the higher command?

Was the execution justified (i.e. motivated, that is, it was not a cover up or a random killing)?

I can come up with few reasons to kill the woman but why the child? Is there some message behind this killing?

Naturally these questions do not matter for despising such behaviour but are important to help to understand the human nature.

I will agree with you there.

I always believe that understanding is important. There are those who think "Understanding==Condoning", which I find a tremendously, and needlessly, false equivalency. I think you need to understand, to trully fight and hopefully defeat something.

How far does the atrocity go? What are the causes? Is this a one-of or repeated act? Who all is involved? And, ultimately, What are the inflection points that can lead to effective prevention?

I'm put in mind of the classic quote attributed to Aristotle:

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

If you demonize and dehumanize your ideological opponents - and even true enemies - you won't be able to understand them well enough to effectively counter them.

They murdered two children.

Yes, but why? They're up there fighting Boko Haram -- this is a war-torn part of the world. Why is the Cameroonian military killing the people they're charged with protecting?

It's something I'd really like to know, after reading through this. I don't understand anything but the most superficial issues facing this region, and it rather shocked me that the national military that's up there to quell the Boko Haram insurgency is committing these atrocities.

I mean, yes, people kill people for fun. People kill children because they're monsters, and I get that. But is that what's happening here? Or is this ethnic cleansing? Or is this something else entirely?

The french population doesn't like the English population. The English part is a minority and feel like a 2nd class citizen in their own country. A lot of them are being killed, you can google these answers. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-44459488/cameroon-c...

This is seriously about what language they speak?

Does that really surprise you?

I think you're just using the wrong word, is all. "Justified" isn't what you're looking for.

The person you're responding too doesn't use the word justify.

Anyway, it's clarified as motivated.

i.e. what was the murderer's justification or motivation.

I've read your post and the parent's post three times but I still cannot understand the point you're making in response to their point. Can you clarify what point you're trying to make, and specifically, put it in context for trying to discover the motivations for the murders? Do you think seeking motivations is pointless because "they murdered two children" ?

Obviously. Does it matter whether such killings are systemic or incidental? It think it does.

For the particular case it might not but for general reaction it does.


Religious flamewar is not allowed on HN, so please don't bring it in here.

What flamewar? I'm just mentioning the facts of the case. When ISIS was around this board lit up like a pinball machine about islam. Now that it's christianty suddenly it's hush hush. Haha what a bigoted shit hole

Actually we've banned many users for anti-Islamic religious flamewar and have warned many more. Your description is not accurate.

There is nothing Christian about those killers.

There was nothing "militia" about it, either. It was the Cameroon military.

No argument here.

This is some impressive video forensics.

It all started with a tip that gave them the general area though.

This is my favorite example of gathering data just from examining a video: https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/case-studies/2014/08/22...

This is a good one too (archive link since the original seems to have been taken down): https://web.archive.org/web/20171214004829/http://www.nytime...

>It all started with a tip that gave them the general area though.

So, good old fashioned journalism?

Yup. As I mentioned in my other comment.

> It all started with a tip that gave them the general area _though_

You've made this point twice in the comments. What are you getting at?

Just that the investigation hinges on decidedly non-technical/novel methods. It is an interesting news story and presentation but isn’t as unique as I think people who just skimmed the twitter thread might assume.

So we’re just going to dismiss the fact that they used social media to get the tip in the first place?

It’s incredible boot leather investigative journalism in 2018 and doesn’t need to be qualified. What are you? A paper salesman?

I totally agree that it is great journalism and is worth recognizing for no other reason than that. I think I was just being extra sour because it was the end of a long day and probably should not have been commenting on the internet. :(

Where did they mention that they used social media to get the tip? Or are you referring to the fact that the video spread via social media (which wouldn't have happened x years ago) and presumably led someone to reach out to them? Not being argumentative, just curious.

Agreed. It's still interesting video forensics. That's a detail that isn't somehow invalidated by the fact other components of good journalism also happened.

Some people have very binary thought processes.

Yeah, you are totally right... it was late in a rough day for me yesterday. I'm not sure why I was so stuck on that.

Could BBC please share the code for matching mountain ridges with locations?

They claim that the first mountain ridge was located by a tip from a Cameroonian source. Here they verify the ridge with the mountain ridges from a height map.

But later on without mentioning any tip or source they "found" an Channel4 news report in archives with again a mountain ridge match. I consider 3) possibilities:

1) They manually watched all the footage from the last few years in that area, freeze framing them whenever they see a mountain ridge, then manually trace it. I don't believe this is what happened, that's too many man hours.

2) They knew through other means (perhaps camera gps location metadata, perhaps report description/summary) that the report video was taken near the massacre video. Because of this metadata/textual data they were able to realize they had nearby footage of an outpost by querying for the massacre location. But then they fail to mention this trivial step and make a bit of a show by highlighting some features and again a mountain ridge. So in this case they have a database of archive footage and filter by location/time.

3) They have automated software for isolating mountain ridge profiles from footage (perhaps edge detection? remove all edges that don't appear to undergo rigid body motion? but how filter clouds etc?), and matching software for locating where on the heightmap it the footage was made. In this case it is explainable without ridiculous man hours or ridiculous showmanship (instead of mentioning say GPS coordinate metadata of the journalism camera). But in this case perhaps BBC could share this code with the public?

Did the BBC's analysis cause the Cameroon government to come clean and start proceedings against the soldiers or was that coincidental?

Below the BBC's thread, an insightful comment by John Odande:

> As Africans, we like saying "African solutions to African problems" yet it is funny that we continue relying on international media to relay accurate information and challenge governments' positions all over the continent. Great job BBC Africa!

Wow. This is an amazing piece of investigative journalism and probably one of the reasons we should all be supporting an independent media.

At the end they bemoan the fact that the men are facing trial and will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. I expect better from the BBC

"Bemoan" is a strong word. The government whose soldiers murdered these women and children called it "fake news", declaring their innocence before even investigating. The BBC is criticising that disgusting behavior by contrasting their emphasis of the soldier's legal innocence until proven guilty with the neglect they exhibited for the people who were executed.

I can see that perspective, I too thought the wording was negligent.

Heart breaking. Congratulations to the BBC for this amazing analysis. But real justice would require telling the story of how these women came to be murdered. This region in Cameroon is a flash point for a regional fight against a Muslim fundamentalist / warlord group called Boko Haram (translates as “western education is a sin”). How and why did these four civilians come to be murdered as a part of this tragic conflict in one of the poorest parts of the world?

For the motive, you'd probably have to ask the murderers. But there's a long tragic history of opportunistic cruelty against women and children (and indeed men, though that's clouded with arguments about combatant status) in warzones.

So I mention the Christian groups committing the atrocities and my post gets flagged because "religious flamewar" but here we see someone freely attributing Muslim to a group and it's all good. You people are vile bigoted hypocrites lol.

Btw recent released reports by Radio France International shows Christians now outnumber Muslims in Boko Haram making Boko Haram now a Christian group. Probably why no one talks about them anymore. You only like shrieking about one specific group of people and selective amnesia for others.

I'm shocked how well Twitter worked here, normally I dread reading long tweet threads but this worked really well. Short videos and a good mix of media helps a ton.

They should not edit out the end of the video. People should know how harsh the world can get.

It's not like anyone is in doubts as to what happens, therefore to show the killings themselves would be somewhat gratuitous.

It's not about people not knowing what happens, it's about people not understanding the significance of what happens. Watching videos and seeing pictures can make you understand the meaning of murder, massacre, and genocide in a way that headlines never can.

I may be downvoted, but /pol/ is where you see stuff like this.

> I may be downvoted, but /pol/ is where you see stuff like this.

You probably got downvoted for the first part of that sentence, not the second part.

In France the far right leader is being prosecuted for “promoting terrorism” for having shown a killing video from ISIS to condemn it. I can see why people would be shy about showing the actual violence.

To be precise, she's being prosecuted for putting graphic (violent) content on a platform accessible to minors.

Le Pen, who lost to Emmanuel Macron in last year's presidential vote, is facing charges of circulating "violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity" and that can be viewed by a minor.


I think this is France's mistake. Should children not know what is going on in the world? Upon turning 18, do you want new voters to have no idea about the malevolence and potential for massacre in the world?

How do we know the whole thing isn't staged? I mean it's not as if getting weapons and uniforms is hard in that part of Africa.

Man I hate twitter as a delivery for content like this. I'd love to see it as a proper article rather than some toy.

Why a twitter link and not the oc at BBC?

The linked tweet is from the official BBC account, @BBCAfrica. I did Google around for the article page on the BBC's site [0], but submitted the Twitter link because the BBC page isn't an article, but a 10 minute video (which also wasn't playing correctly on my phone). The Twitter thread is fairly easy to read as an article.

[0] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-45599973/cameroon-a...

The footage made me very sad. The people have to live in extreme poverty and on top of that hardship they also have to suffer such unspeakable violence. BBC has done a great job of bringing the war criminals to justice.

Powerful and absolutely stunning work. This, _this_ is investigative journalism in the modern era.

I think it’s worth noting that, as despicable as some of their work can be, Anon pioneered this kind of digital forensic work.

Here is the full video package on this from BBC Africa:


That's some real life CSI stuff.

how long until AI can do all of this?

Interesting, vmaini. Do you mean identify the time/location/persons or kill innocent civilians?

It seems obvious to me that the intended interpretation of the comment is "identify the location" (which is something I immediately wondered about as well).

Though perhaps you were attempting to make a droll remark regarding the powerful nature of AI and its capacity to be used for both good and evil?

What is your desired precision/recall rate

Well, if the AI gets to do both, you can make the precision arbitrarily high...

On the one hand I think this is really impressive and am somewhat excited that they have been able to do this. On the other hand, I'm also somewhat fearful about the future. For example, what if, in this age of constant surveillance, techniques like these get more automated, and repressive governments are able to more easily and more quickly identify investigative journalists at locations they would not want them to be?

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