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Case Study 5.3: Confirming the Location and Content of a Video

Christoph Koettl is the emergency response manager at Amnesty International USA. He specializes in utilizing satellite imagery, mobile technology and citizen media for human rights research and advocacy. His expertise is in international humanitarian law, conflict analysis, crisis mapping and video validation, and he is a regular speaker on technology and human rights, including at SXSW 2014. He has testified on war crimes in Sri Lanka before the United States Congress. Numerous national and international media, including AP, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Reuters, cover his work regularly. He tweets at @ckoettl.

During the violent clashes in Cairo in August 2013 there was one particular YouTube video that received a lot of media attention. (The original video was subsequently removed from YouTube, but can be also viewed here.) The widely used description for this video, which for example appeared in the headline on a Washington Post blog post, was that protesters had pushed a police car off a bridge in Cairo.

Violent behavior displayed by protesters is, of course, relevant when investigating disproportionate use of force by the police, as we at Amnesty International do. We also work to verify video as part of determining whether human rights abuses have occurred. As a result, this video represented important footage that needed careful review.

What stood out from this video, in contrast to the description and resulting headline, was that at no time could the protesters be seen actually pushing the car off the bridge. It clearly required a closer look. Here’s what I did to assess the content of the video and determine the exact location of the incident:

One of the first steps when validating citizen video is to search for other content that shows the same incident [1]. I normally search YouTube as well as in the Storyful dashboard (a paid service) and Storyful’s Open News Room to find additional video content. (As noted in the chapter, I filter my YouTube searches by upload date to narrow down the number of results.) Using these tools, I found a second video that was shot from a different angle. It appears to be filmed from a nearby high-rise, and thus provides a great view of the whole scene. The additional footage shows that no one actually pushed the police car off the bridge. Rather, the car appears to have collided with another vehicle, causing it to roll back and fall off the bridge. This second video confirmed the incident was real, but also revealed that the description (and headline) were inaccurate.

With the new vantage point provided by the second video, it became easier to find the exact location of the incident. The Washington Post article provided the “6th of October Bridge” as the setting of the video. This is sufficient to get started, as the bridge is easy to find on online maps. However, the bridge is actually a very long elevated road that runs through large parts of the city. This made it more challenging to find the exact location.

When carefully reviewing the second video, one landmark stood out: a sports stadium. By tracing the 6th of October Bridge on Google Earth, I was able to identify two stadiums that are in close proximity to the bridge. After rotating the view on Google Earth to find the potential location and line of sight of the person filming, I found a location that matches up with the second stadium. Having confirmed the general location, it was then easy to pinpoint the high-rise buildings overlooking the incident. Using the mapping tool in Google Earth Pro, I produced a simple overview map, depicting the location of the two videos, the area of sights, and relevant landmarks:

Coordinates of lead video: 30.058807, 31.303089

Finally, two more features further confirmed the location: A broadcasting tower is visible in the background of the video, which is also visible in satellite images. Additionally, I turned on the Panoramio photo layer in Google Earth to check for user-generated photos. The Panoramio layer contains georeferenced, user-generated photos that provide an on-the-ground view, and thus a high level of detail. There are also several photos from underneath the bridge where the car landed, and the pillars of the bridge as seen in the video match up perfectly.

Thanks to a combination of video searches, Google Earth and Google Maps, I was quickly able to verify where the video was shot, and to also debunk an erroneous description that could have had serious implications for the protesters in Cairo.

In the end, after the real story of why the police car fell off the bridge was clear, The Washington Post followed up with a second post and a correction.


  1. For more about the value of multi-perspective video, please see: Hal Hodson: "Multishot video can identify civil rights abusers". New Scientist, 28 June 2013; and the Rashomon Project.  ↩



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