Open source evidence is of increasing importance to human rights investigations, in light of the fact that investigators are often denied access to affected regions. Not only does open source intelligence help to overcome some of the logistical barriers investigators face; it has also been heralded for its great democratizing potential, by hearing some of the voices that have traditionally been silenced in investigations. However, new issues arise with these types of investigations. The huge volume of evidence retrievable from social media can make it difficult for investigators to extract truly useful information. There are further issues of informational bias that can be attributed to algorithmic bias where keywords searches are used, or to misinformation posted online, intended to obfuscate or exaggerate human rights abuses.
Work Package 1
Mapping Open Source Research in Human Rights
We will carry out a comprehensive overview of the impact of Open Source Evidence on human rights investigations, and the challenges and opportunities posed in dealing with open source material in practice. Combining interview data with a systematic review of reports produced by human rights organisations, commissions of inquiry, and international courts, we will determine the extent to which information gathered through open source research could complement and address some of the informational gaps inherent to traditional investigative methods, or whether the same or new informational biases arise.
Work Package 2
Transformative Methods, Transformative Impact
We will conduct a Case Study using cutting-edge natural language processing, text mining, and spatial analysis techniques in an automated process, combined with legal analysis in a case study to demonstrate how OSINT-based investigations can be made more systematic. Our case study will focus on The Philippines, where mass human rights violations have allegedly occurred, but which is not currently subject to an international human rights inquiry. It also has been said to face a problem with a proliferation of ‘fake news’ accounts spreading counter-narratives on social media about extrajudicial killings. In dedicated workshops convened with stakeholder organisations, we will demonstrate our methods and train human rights investigators on how to use them.
Work Package 3
We will develop the Knowledge Hub Framework, a set of core microservices that provide tools to gather data from social media, news feeds, and from direct sources, and to carry out specific analytical tasks. These analytical tasks will include: comparing documents for semantic similarity, identifying place names within free text so they can be located on a map, and checking the origins and assigning weightings to data sources based on crosschecks and historical accuracies. In project workshops and training sessions, we will demonstrate the Knowledge Hub Framework and refine its functionality to make it more useful for organisations’ investigative needs. We will grant other trusted sources permission to use and develop further Framework microservices, thereby facilitating more systematic human rights investigations in the future.