OSINT for Good: Reporting the Bad

NOTE: While the topic of this blog is not comfortable, we at OSINTcurious feel that it’s important to share what an OSINT investigator or any online user should do when encountering potentially harmful, dangerous or illegal activity on the internet.

It has been less than 2 weeks since a terrorist went into 2 mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and murdered 50 people and wounded dozens more while live-streaming the terror attack on Facebook. According to Facebook, the live stream video of this terror attack wasn’t reported by online viewers until 12 minutes after the live stream ended.

Unfortunately, I (Josh Huff) saw portions of the archived New Zealand shooting video which was 17 minutes long. The beginning of the video contained the shooter travelling to the first Mosque and retrieving weapons from his vehicle. At this point, a reported video may have saved lives or at minimum reduced the amount of casualties. Most streaming platforms on social media such as Facebook Live, Snapchat and YouTube have similar ‘report video’ functions that can be used to flag inappropriate content. This is what it looks like on Facebook Live:

Three dots at the top right of a Facebook post opens a menu where you can report a video

Once you click the ‘Report video’ button you are given options to specify the reason for reporting. If you see that someone is in immediate danger, you have to instantly contact law enforcement in your area.

Reasons for reporting a video and a warning to contact law enforcement if there is immediate danger

Similar functionality can be found on Snap Chat:

Report button at top of a Snap Chat video

Also on YouTube:

Report button at bottom right of YouTube video

As OSINT investigators, you may have an earlier detection rate for things that are about to happen online. Knowing how to quickly report a dangerous situation on the platform you are doing work in should be something you are familiar with. If you are working with a newer platform or less known one make sure you know the reporting process early on. Some sites like YouTube make you sign into an account before you can report an issue. So knowing this could save precious minutes in an emergency situation.

As noted in the Facebook reporting menu, you should notify law enforcement in your area when you see that someone is in immediate danger. As a general rule pay attention to details that law enforcement will be interested in when telling them about the emergency situation. Details you may consider reporting:

  • Time and Location of Incident
  • Description of individuals or vehicles
  • Links to any online evidence or videos

Child Abuse and Other Situations

OSINT investigators may find themselves exposed to other situations requiring reporting to law enforcement directly. Child sexual abuse is another type of content that should be reported to the appropriate authorities. The Department of Justice website has instructions on how to report various crimes that can be useful to investigators in the United States including Violent Crime, Child abuse, Trafficking, Terrorism, Drugs, Alcohol Tobacco or Firearms, Internet Fraud and White Collar crime. This is what they say about sexual exploitation of children:

Full links available here

Many internet service providers have pages with information about reporting child abuse online. For example, Spectrum’s report abuse page which also includes a range of info that you might take note of when it comes to reporting:

Online areas you can take note of for reporting

Dealing with online stress/trauma

Knowing how to report the terrible things we may encounter is important, but taking care of your own psychological well being can be equally important. Many of the things we find online cannot be unseen. I would like to share an article I found very helpful that includes some great tips to use when investigating potentially violent or traumatic material.

The things we observe in our internet browser or mobile devices may seem distant or video-game like. But most social media involves human beings on the other side of the screen. Please do your best to help your fellow humans when it comes to OSINT. As an investigator this also includes you. Stay safe friends and stay OSINTcurious.

Help us!

Do you have suggestions for places to report unethical, violent, illegal, or other things that people might discover during an OSINT investigation? Let us know and we will add them to this blog.