Could you please share with us the DFRLab’s story?
The Atlantic Council is a US-based think tank that focuses on foreign policy issues. The Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) is one of its most recently founded programs. The DFRLab’s starting point was Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine, a report published in October 2015 that presented open source-based evidence of Russian military presence in Eastern Ukraine. After the global success of this first report, the DFRLab became a fully operational program of the Atlantic Council and expanded its focus and its team across different regions. It now counts over 30 experts from 15 different countries and located in eight offices around the
What’s the main mission of the DFRlab?
The DFRLab is a leading center at the intersection between government, media, and civil society. The DFRLab is set to identify, expose, and explain manipulation of information online and offline and to foster digital resilience around the world, at a time when humans are more interconnected than at any point in history.
Please tell us about your experience during the training “Introduction to Open Source Investigation Methods” you facilitated in Thessaloniki.
All of the DFRLab members who came to Thessaloniki had a wonderful experience working with a highly motivated audience. After the event, we had a little round-up session and we all unanimously agreed that we haven’t seen such an engaged and curious audience in quite some time. Everyone’s input from DCN HUB, the U.S. Embassy in Greece and the participants made it very easy and pleasant for our team to conduct the training. We can’t wait to be back!
What was the feedback you received from the participants?
We did receive numerous handshakes and a lot of positive comments from the participants after and during the event. The most common positive comment we received was that our training was much different from other trainings they have been at. Many of them pointed out that we managed to make our training highly interactive, engaging and stimulating. The nicest part was to hear that a lot of participants would like to continue collaborating and learning from the DFRLab team. It means a lot to us!
Could you please share with us your favorite open source tools for investigative journalism?
To pick only one favorite open-source tool is a really hard task. I guarantee that every single DFRLab member would provide you with a different answer when asked, yet for me, the answer would be geolocation. Not only is this one of the most versatile methods in our toolbox, but also it is one of the most fun. It is in a bit like solving a puzzle that has a number of ways to get the same answer and it brings a great feeling of achievement once you finally figure it out.
Now, more than ever we have all these open digital tools at our disposal. Do you think that the majority of journalists use them regularly and responsibly?
Open source methodologies are becoming more and more popular in journalism. I think that open source was a very young topic when DFRLab was founded back in 2015, but its popularity was growing ever since. I think one of the reasons is that it allows to do so much investigative work without even leaving your computer and with minimal costs. I would not claim that the majority of journalists are using these methods, especially outside the investigative journalist communities, but more and more journalists are using these tools even if only for small tasks, like to check their sources. This is a great development and hopefully, the use will only increase in the future. As with all tools it depends on the user how they are used, but I want to remain positive and think that the majority of journalists are using them responsibly and morally.
I would like a comment about disinformation. What can journalists and citizens do to be protected by fake news in the social media era?
Social media and new technologies drastically changed the way and speed we consume information. Generally, this has an extremely positive impact on global society, because it allows more people around the world to have access to information and means of communication. At the same time, it also allows malign actors to exploit the weaknesses of these new technologies, for example by targeting online audiences with disinformation with unprecedented ease.
By “digital resilience” the DFRLab means the ability of society to understand the implication of social media and new technologies, develop critical thinking, and, as a consequence, build defense capabilities against hostile actors. When reading a piece of news readers should always ask themselves “who is saying that, with what intention, and based on what facts?”. Source verification and critical thinking are the first step to protect ourselves against disinformation.
How easy is it to work and train experienced journalists?
Experienced journalists are one of the best audiences to work with, due to their journalistic instincts. Most of the time we are presenting and explaining how the open-source tools work and the journalists are adapting them and finding ways how to use them in their work.
They are naturally curious people and become #DigitalSherlocks very fast. Yet the nicest part of working with journalists is that they have a good sense of story-telling and a feeling of where to look to find the answers.
Please tell us about your upcoming pieces of training.
We will conduct follow-up training in Thessaloniki for around fifteen of the participants of last week’s workshop. The follow-up session aims at giving an opportunity for participants to apply the methodologies and tools they learned last week to an investigation of their interest and receive feedback from us and the rest of the group.
In the upcoming months, we will also conduct a series of trainings around Europe and beyond addressed to different audiences. On June 4-5, we will then invite all our global network of trainees, partner organizations, and stakeholders, to join us in Brussels for our 360/Open Forum event. Over the course of two days, journalists, policymakers, students, researchers, government leaders, private sector representatives, and members of the civil society will join interactive policy-focused conversations, in-depth trainings on open source techniques, presentations from thought leaders and storytellers, a digital marketplace of ideas, and much more.