Tools and tips round up: Investigating AI, using satellite imagery, Pinpoint, Google Dorks and lots more
Featuring tips and slide decks from the recent Global Investigative Journalism Network Conference
I just returned from the Global Investigative Journalism Network’s conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, where over two thousand journalists came together to share investigative approaches and techniques. This edition of Digital Investigations features a rundown of some of the guides and tools shared there, along with other articles and tools I’ve collected over the past month or so.
Tip Sheets and Slide Decks from GIJN
📚 I attended a great panel about investigating artificial intelligence systems. The panelists, Garance Burke from Associated Press, Gabriel Geiger from Lighthouse Reports and Lam Thuy Vo from The Markup, produced a really useful tip sheet. It covers how AI systems work, methods for getting data about AI systems, and reporting tips.
📚 There’s also a FOIA template for making requests for data and information about AI systems.
📚 And Burke recently did an interview with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism where she laid out tips for reporting on AI. One nugget: “Just keeping in mind how human biases can influence the ways in which these tools work is important, in addition to knowing that you have the agency yourself to deploy AI tools and experimenting in testing the systems that you're reporting on. Doing new digitally savvy open source work in your newsroom is also a good place to keep pushing.”
📚 Research trainer Marcus Lindemann did a session called Google for Nerds that offered examples of Google Dorks and tips for optimizing them. He listed the many file formats that you can use with the “filetype:” search operator. Marcus’ slide deck is a great companion to the recent article from Ron Kaminsky, “From Zero to Google Dorking Hero: Enhancing Your OSINT Arsenal.” It’s an excellent, detailed article.
📚 There was a session about using Google Pinpoint for organizing and analyzing content and data. I use it to help extract key entities form reams of PDFs and other documents, and to create a dataset of docs I can easily search. This tip sheet from Eduardo Goulart, Alice de Souza, and Reinaldo Chaves shows how to use Pinpoint to transcribe audio files, how to use content labels, how to take advantage of Pinpoint’s structured data extraction feature, and how to combine Pinpoint with tools like Hunchly.
📚 At the conference GIJN launched its Reporter’s Guide to Investigating Digital Threats. The free, five-part online guide provides reporters and other investigators with tools, techniques and guidance on how to investigate digital threats such as disinformation, trolling and spyware. I wrote the first part of the guide and am one of the instructors for GIJN’s virtual Digital Threats training course. It’s free for journalists around the world and is accepting applicants for the second cohort. Apply by Oct. 6!
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📍First off, a change that may make investigations more difficult on Twitter/X: the company rolled out the ability for paid users to hide their likes. TikTok offers this feature and it’s proven popular. We’ll see if it catches on with Twitter’s paid userbase.
📍Digital Footprint Check is a cool tool that lets you enter a username or email (as well as optional data like a phone number) and search online to find related accounts and information.
📍Want to learn how to see the invisible tracking/ID dots that digital printers embed in pages? (Think of this infamous example.) @allforosint shared a link to Forensic Dots, a tool to help you see how it works.
📍Paul Myers, one of the best digital investigative trainers in journalism, gave two sessions at GIJN. One was focused on images and he shared Face++, a tool you can use to compare two photos of a person. It provides a similarity score to help determine whether it’s the same person in both photos.
📍Henk vas Ess, another fantastic digital investigative trainer who was also at GIJN, recently launched a tool that lets you search the text of the About sections of Facebook profiles. And here’s Henk’s Substack.
📍This is a great list of tools to investigate social media accounts/platforms.
📚 Journalists and investigators love archive.today. Ever wonder who runs it? “On the trail of the mysterious guerrilla archivist of the Internet” showcases a range of OSINT techniques to uncover clues as to the identity of its owner.
📚 Leon Yin published a great checklist that journalists can use for “Pitching Hypothesis-Driven Data Investigations.”
📚 The indefatigable, who tweets up a storm and writes on Substack, published a detailed guide, “When you need search by nickname in public IP addresses search engines (Shodan, Netlas, Fofa etc).”
📚 Bellingcat published “Measuring Up: How to Calculate the Size of Objects in Open Source Material.”
📚 Nico Dekens, aka Dutch OSINT Guy, wrote a handy guide, “Using AI for extracting Usernames, Emails, Phone Numbers, and Personal Names from large datasets.”
That’s it for this edition of Digital Investigations! Thanks for reading.