Image: Robert S. Donovan


  • Using free and paid tools
  • The ethics and crediting of eyewitness media

Ethics and crediting

I’m putting this first because it’s important and I don’t want it to be buried as an afterthought…

Eyewitness footage by people shot at the scene of a news event — sometimes referred to by the clunky expression, “User Generated Content” (UGC) — is increasingly becoming part of news coverage.

  • Enquire about their safety
  • Ask if they shot the footage themselves
  • Ask for permission to use the picture
  • Say how and where the image will be used
  • Ask if they would like to be credited
  • Ask how they would like to be credited

So how do you go about finding images and video from a specific location? Here’s a few ways to do it direct, and then some useful tools.

✳️ Twitter

N.B. It’s important to be aware that Twitter results only are only pulled up within the following searches if someone has enabled the “location” setting on their account, or for that particular tweet (which is only a very small fraction of tweets) or if the location is included in their Twitter bio.

If you know that something has happened in a specific area and you want to find non-geolocated tweets, you need to put yourself in the shoes of that person living that event.

A few things to bear in mind:

  • People tend to swear a lot when they witness dramatic scenes (so search for words like “fuck”, “shit” etc)
  • “Me” and “my” are two good words to add to a search if you want to find people directly affected by a situation, as this article by NYT’s Daniel Victor shows

✳️ Facebook Signal

Facebook Signal launched in September 2015 and covers Instagram too (it’s owned by Facebook). It’s free and just for journalists — though you do need to sign up first, and it can take a few weeks to get access.

More tools for Instagram

You can also search Instagram using a couple of great third-party tools.

✳️ Worldcam

Type the city in the box on the right-hand side of Worldcam and then select the place you want to search.


Until June 2016, Gramfeed was a free service for searching and locating images on Instagram by location, keyword, hashtag etc. But with recent changes to Instagram’s API, it changed name to Picodash, and became a paid-for service. It costs $8 a month for journalists, and you can take up a free 3-day trial.

✳️ YouTube

YouTube built an in-house tool which allows you search a specific area and specific date range and add keywords.

✳️ Periscope

The live-streaming video service, in June 2015 added a new feature — which is effectively a location search. Just hit on the globe, and zoom right into your chosen area.

✳️ Snapchat

Snapchat is starting to do some really interesting experiments in news based on location — for example around the Haj pilgrimage and the attacks in San Bernardino in California. Expect more from them in this area in the coming months. Such is the popularity of Snapchat in the Middle East that third-party archiving apps have sprung up there.

Here are some great third-party tools for finding social media from a specific location


If I had to pick one social media company to watch, it would be Banjo.

Wildfires in California in June 2015
A list of news ‘events’ flagged up on the free version of Banjo on 28 January 2016
Banjo shows what’s rending on Facebook in the US on 28 January 2016


Geofeedia is a powerful paid-for tool, which lets you select the area you want to pull social media data from, by drawing a simple circle, or “polygon” around it.

A quick search round Times Square, New York

Ground Signal

Ground Signal used to have a great free plan, but unfortunately has moved to a paid plan only (around $3,000 a month).

✳️ More from the Social Media Reporter ✳️

  • How to organise your feeds
  • Locating video, images and sources from a specific location, and the ethics of using eyewitness material
  • Verification. How to spot fakes and scams
  • How to use social media to track people down and for research
  • How to find out what’s trending and dig to the bottom of trends
  • More resources

The Social Media Reporter

A guide to using social media for newsgathering

Cordelia Hebblethwaite

Written by

Commissioning editor for @bbcideas — short films for curious minds. Via @BBCNewsnight, @JSKStanford, @BBCTrending and more. Wrote

The Social Media Reporter

A guide to using social media for newsgathering