This section covers:
How to find images and video from a specific location:
- Direct from Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites
- Using free and paid tools
- The ethics and crediting of eyewitness media
N.B. This symbol ✳️ means the tool is free!
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.
So it’s fundamentally important for journalists and news organizations to work through the issues to do with crediting and ethics that are thrown up.
A few basics:
From a copyright point of view, the legal owner of any photo or video uploaded to any social media site is not the social media site, but the uploader — provided they were the person who took it.
The EyeWitness Media Hub is a non-profit organization set up to advise on best practice in this area. They also publish First Draft News, which is a publication on Medium with regular tips and updates.
Here’s how they set out the basics of “the etiquette of consent”:
- Introduce yourself
- 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
Source: The Eyewitness Media Hub
It’s best to take the conversation into a private space as soon as possible, and to ask them for extra context around the image.
Remember someone can only give you permission to use an image or video, if they are the person who took it, so it’s essential to establish this at the outset. Ask them directly. And if you are in any doubt at all, check if the image has been used before (see the verification section for how to do this).
As part of a recent study, the Eyewitness Media Hub spoke to a number of people whose material had been used by news organizations about how they felt about this. It turns out that, for some, the experience was pretty bruising.
The examples from the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris provide particular food for thought.
Some more reading:
Both from the Verification Handbook for Investigative Reporting
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.
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.
This is the formulation to type into the search bar:
near:ADD CITY within:ADD SEARCH RADIUS as km or mi
You need to type it exactly like this, with no spaces before or after the colon and the km or mi attached to the number.
You can widen the radius — if you want to search an entire country, for example:
near:Madrid within:350km would very roughly take in all of Spain
2. By zipcode
This only works in the US, as far as I know. It’s the same formula. For example:
3. By longitude and latitude
Find the longitude and latitude of the place you want to search. Do this on google maps, by inputing the address, then right clicking by the arrow, and selecting “what’s here?”.
Remove any spaces from the long/lat coordinates, and type the same format into the Twitter search bar:
It can also be written as:
If it doesn’t work, chances are a stray space has crept in somewhere! It needs to be written exactly as above with no spaces.
You can combine keywords and/or hashtags and other search options with this. And you can opt to just see photos or video, by selecting these tabs across the top after you’ve done the search.
There are lots of examples of location searches on the Thought Faucet blog.
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 use very localized terms. They are much more likely to use the name of the street/landmark they are at, then the name of the town or city.
- 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
There’s more on Twitter in the search section of this guide.
As a company Twitter are well aware that — while the platform is a great resource for news — it’s not always easy to navigate.
That’s part of the reason they created Project Lightning, which resulted in the launch of Moments in October 2015. Moments collates a selection of tweets from a place or event together, and appears when you hit the lightening bolt icon at the bottom of the Twitter app, or at the top when on desktop.
✳️ 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.
It’s most useful for finding trending stories (and is covered in detail in the trending section of this guide), but also includes the option to search Instagram by location.
Instagram really comes into its own for journalists when you’re looking for images or video from a specific location. The percentage of posts that are geotagged on Instagram is far, far higher than on Twitter — plus it’s a platform all about images and video.
To search Instagram by location, hit Instagram Search, select the place you want to search, and the radius. You can combine this with a hashtag search.
In a welcome update, Instagram recently added a basic location-based search on their app as part of a relaunch of its explore button.
Hit the magnifying glass at the bottom of the app, in the search bar type the name of the place, and then hit the places tab across the top.
That then shows you the latest posts from that location.
More tools for Instagram
You can also search Instagram using a couple of great third-party tools.
Type the city in the box on the right-hand side of Worldcam and then select the place you want to search.
It doesn’t work for all addresses — only for venues and specific buildings like libraries, schools, universities etc
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 built an in-house tool which allows you search a specific area and specific date range and add keywords.
It’s really simple to use, though is less useful than you might imagine, as so few videos are given a location tag at the time of upload — but it is still worth a try.
When you do a search direct on YouTube, you can also filter it by date of upload.
YouTube have teamed up with Storyful to create YouTube Newswire to source and verify eyewitness video.
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 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.
The company has been around for a while, but over the past couple of years has been quietly going leaps and bounds in mapping the world via social media.
Its paid-for Enterprise version is an incredibly powerful tool for finding geolocated social media from a specific location extremely quickly and in real-time.
Like other location-based tools, you zoom into a map and select the area you want, and pull in the geo-tagged posts from that area.
You can draw a very specific area to search, and further refine by keyword, or search for just images and video.
Their work goes well beyond geolocation, and includes image recognition technology and the mapping of the baseline of what normal looks like on social media — so that any unusual activity can be spotted and investigated instantly (this article in Inc. spells it out quite clearly).
Based on this, the team provide ready-collated social media from news events.
They also provide a summary of trending topics — within Banjo and on Facebook:
On the paid-for Enterprise version, it’s also possible to go in time to a specific moment within the last seven days, or further back on demand — their archive extends back as far as 2009.
It’s got a great user friendly design, which integrates nicely with TV, the web and touch screen displays.
Unlike say Storyful, there is no verification done in-house, and — because their main news customers are big US companies — the alerts skew heavily towards the US, but that may change as it expands.
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.
It pulls in geotagged data from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa and the Chinese social network, Sina Weibo.
Geofeedia have recently upgraded the look and feel of the account and added some extra features, including an analytics section.
There is also now a free app which allows you to do a basic search within a 1, 2.5 or 5km radius
Ground Signal used to have a great free plan, but unfortunately has moved to a paid plan only (around $3,000 a month).
It pulls in data from Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Flickr and more.
- 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
This guide is a starting point. I’d love others to contribute to expand and improve it. Please feel free to leave a note here, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or @cordeliaheb