The abundance of Gaza war video is both revealing and concerning for news outlets

In the midst of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, the availability of real-time visual documentation from various sources has become a hallmark of the digital age.

From live camera feeds capturing the luminous streaks of light in Gaza City to dash-cam footage revealing the ominous presence of a killer in Israel, the sheer volume and diversity of video material have provided a unique and multifaceted perspective on the unfolding events.

Satellite imagery has further contributed to this visual narrative by identifying tank tracks etched into the earth, while even mall security cameras have captured the harrowing moment of a bomb detonation in Gaza.

In light of the restricted access for journalists to the war-torn region, the influx of such diverse video sources has become a critical component in piecing together the complex and often tumultuous events.

News organizations are now tasked with the formidable challenge of sifting through this plethora of digital material, discerning authenticity, and uncovering unexpected clues that can weave disparate fragments into coherent and compelling narratives.

This process, while undeniably vital, has also become emotionally taxing, underscoring the gravity and intensity of the responsibilities involved in interpreting and presenting these visual accounts to the world.

In today’s fast-paced and digital world, the role of journalism has evolved significantly. As Katie Polglase, a London-based investigative producer for CNN, aptly pointed out, it has become a key part of doing journalism in the modern age.

With the rise of social media, citizen journalism, and the 24-hour news cycle, the way news is gathered, reported, and consumed has undergone a drastic transformation.

Journalists now have to navigate through a plethora of information sources, fact-checking, and verifying the authenticity of news stories. Additionally, the pressure to break news first and capture the attention of an increasingly distracted audience has intensified.

Therefore, the ability to adapt to new technologies, engage with audiences on various platforms, and produce high-quality, accurate content has become a crucial aspect of modern journalism.

As such, the role of investigative producers, like Katie Polglase, has become more vital than ever in ensuring that the public has access to reliable and well-researched information.

Last week, CBS News made a significant announcement with the introduction of “CBS News Confirmed,” a specialized team dedicated to utilizing data and technology for the purpose of scrutinizing online evidence.

This initiative follows in the footsteps of the establishment of the “BBC Verify” unit earlier this year, which aimed to integrate open source reporting methods into the global news platform.

The culmination of this capability was most notably evident when major news outlets such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The Associated Press conducted comprehensive analyses of video evidence, including the peculiar streaks in the sky, in an attempt to ascertain the disputed cause of a fatal explosion at Gaza’s al-Ahli Arab Hospital on October 17.

Despite these efforts, a consensus was not reached, and there was a sense of caution regarding drawing conclusions without the ability to physically examine the evidence on the ground.

In the past, news events were often only seen after the fact, unless television cameras happened to be on the scene. However, with the prevalence of smartphones equipped with video cameras, simply seeing the aftermath is no longer sufficient.

The current expectation is for immediate and real-time coverage. Wendy McMahon, president of CBS News and Stations, noted that audiences now expect to be active participants in the news, learning about events alongside anchors and reporters.

This means sifting through a vast amount of video content from platforms like X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, Instagram, Telegram, and Facebook.

Much of this content is distressing, depicting graphic scenes of tragedy and loss. The impact of repeatedly viewing such images is known as “vicarious trauma” among those who are regularly exposed to them.

It’s clear that combatants also understand the power of visual media, as evidenced by some Hamas members wearing cameras to document their actions during a killing spree in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel has been compiling and sharing graphic images from that day with journalists. The prevalence and immediacy of video content has fundamentally changed the way news is consumed and reported, presenting both challenges and opportunities for media organizations.

The utilization of social media has reached a level of unprecedented sophistication, as highlighted by Rhona Tarrant, a senior editor at the investigative site Storyful.

The sheer volume of information and content available on these platforms is staggering. This proliferation of content poses a significant challenge for news organizations, as they grapple with the responsibility to accurately portray reality while also considering the potential trauma that violent imagery may inflict upon consumers.

The risk of desensitizing viewers through an excess of distressing material is a constant concern. Paradoxically, the relentless repetition of violent events, such as those seen in war, can in itself become a newsworthy narrative.

Recent weeks have seen the spread of fabricated images, including false depictions of Bella Hadid, a model of Palestinian heritage, denouncing an attack by Hamas in Israel, a row of purported deceased Palestinians covered in shrouds, with one seemingly coming back to life, and a Palestinian individual purportedly injured in a hospital bed one day, only to be seen walking unharmed the next.

None of these events actually occurred, as all the images were determined to be fake. For instance, a video of Hadid accepting an award for activism in Lyme Disease was manipulated to convey a false message, while the “moving body” video was from a 2013 protest rally in Egypt.

Additionally, the individual portrayed as an “actor” was actually two separate people, and the image of one in a hospital bed preceded the onset of the conflict.

This disconcerting trend underscores the growing need for critical evaluation and verification of content in the age of widespread digital misinformation.

In the contemporary digital landscape, the vital role of journalists in scrutinizing and analyzing video content cannot be overstated.

As the online sphere becomes inundated with a myriad of visual material, particularly stemming from historical conflicts such as those in Gaza, the discerning eye of the journalist becomes paramount in sifting fact from fiction.

The prevalence of misrepresented or recycled footage, sometimes even originating from video games, underscores the necessity for astute verification processes.

Amidst this deluge of content, the reliance on search engines to ascertain authenticity has become indispensable. The emergence of deep fakes and misinformation on an unprecedented scale during the course of conflicts has only served to reinforce this pressing need for vigilance.

As underscored by McMahon, the current war has crystallized the expectation that news organizations will encounter a surge in deceptive content, compelling them to navigate a landscape fraught with challenges and misinformation.

Consequently, the capacity of experts to distinguish between genuine footage and falsified material assumes a pivotal role in preserving the integrity of media and upholding the public’s right to accurate information.

The question of how potent AI’s power truly is has been a topic of great debate and concern among experts in the field.

While the advancement of artificial intelligence has undoubtedly raised fears about its potential impact, some experts argue that its current use in various sectors, including journalism, has been relatively limited.

James Law, editor-in-chief at Storyful, has pointed out that there is a misconception among the public about the actual power and capabilities of AI at the present moment.

Despite the widespread fear of AI’s potential to manipulate and disseminate false information, journalists have been actively engaged in debunking falsehoods and utilizing open-source reporting methods to verify the authenticity of videos and other publicly available materials.

In recent weeks, the importance of open-source reporting has become increasingly evident, highlighting the crucial role that traditional journalistic practices continue to play in the age of AI.

As such, it is clear that while AI may pose significant challenges, its current power and influence may be more limited than commonly perceived.

Storyful, established in 2009 with the primary objective of assisting news organizations in navigating through the vast amount of information available, has proven to be exceptionally skilled in this modern form of investigative work.

The team of investigators at Storyful employs a wide array of tools, such as mapping software, flight-tracking systems, security cameras, and news agency videos, to meticulously piece together and analyze information.

In many instances, individuals capture footage of an event, and inadvertently capture additional details, such as remnants of a bomb, which may serve as crucial clues for an entirely separate story, as noted by Polglase.

This level of attention to detail and thoroughness in their approach has established Storyful as a leader in the field of investigative journalism, providing valuable insight and context to news organizations and the public.

In today’s digital age, the integration of various multimedia sources has become a powerful tool for storytelling. Maps, video, and audio can be seamlessly combined to provide a comprehensive and immersive account of events.

Take, for example, CNN’s investigation into the Hamas attack on an outdoor concert on the morning of October 7.

Through the use of maps, video footage, and audio recordings, CNN was able to illustrate how concertgoers were directed towards shelters that they believed would provide safety, only to tragically discover that these shelters had become killing grounds.

This integration of multimedia not only adds depth and context to the story but also allows for a more thorough understanding of how the events unfolded.

It enables audiences to gain a more comprehensive and nuanced perspective on the situation, ultimately enhancing the impact and effectiveness of the storytelling.

As technology continues to advance, the potential for the integration of multimedia in storytelling will only continue to grow, offering new and innovative ways to convey information and evoke emotional responses from audiences.

The New York Times recently published a detailed report on how false claims that Israelis were planning to settle in a Muslim area of Russia led to a violent mob attacking a plane.

The report highlighted the use of video and Telegram postings to spread misinformation and incite violence among the local population.

The incident, which occurred in July 2023, resulted in the cancellation of flights to the region and left many passengers stranded.

The report sheds light on the dangerous consequences of spreading false information and the need for responsible journalism to combat the proliferation of misinformation in the digital age.

The New York Times’ use of video and social media platforms to expose the truth behind the incident is a testament to the power of technology in uncovering the truth and holding those responsible accountable.

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of fact-checking and responsible reporting in today’s fast-paced media landscape.

The utilization of satellite images, video, and photos has proven to be invaluable in tracking the movements of Israeli forces during their initial incursion into Gaza.

The Washington Post, in particular, has made effective use of these tools to provide detailed insights into the military actions in the region.

Similarly, the BBC has utilized these resources to report on the bombing of specific sites in southern Gaza and to investigate the warnings given to civilians by the Israeli forces.

This type of reporting requires a high level of skill and expertise, and as part of the “CBS News Confirmed” initiative, the hiring of journalists with these capabilities has been a priority.

In addition to building specific teams, organizations such as the AP and BBC are also focused on training journalists globally in these investigative techniques.

However, it is important to acknowledge the potential emotional toll that this work can take on journalists. The exposure to disturbing video footage and the constant monitoring of conflict zones can have a significant impact on mental health.

News outlets are increasingly recognizing the need to address this issue and are implementing measures to support the well-being of their employees.

Bellingcat, for example, advises its employees to carefully consider the necessity of viewing distressing footage and to protect their mental health.

Similarly, Storyful encourages open communication and provides access to counseling services for its employees.

It is crucial for journalists to prioritize their mental well-being and seek support when needed, as the nature of their work can undoubtedly take a toll on their emotional and psychological health.