(Click here to watch and listen to the video version of this blog entry)
Part of any OSINT investigation is finding reliable data that can be analysed and verified in order to end up on a report that, later on, can be disseminated into the wider public.
As a member of a big team of people analysing data coming from the Ukraine – Russia war, there’s a point in which, inevitably, we start moving from gathering data and geolocating it indiscriminately to start focusing more on analysing specific events / incidents.
There has been a massive media coverage of incidents such as the air attack on the theatre in Mariupol in which children were taking shelter, the Bucha massacre of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces during the occupation of the city, or even the missile strike on the Kramatorsk train station earlier this month. Events such as this and many (many!) more, sometimes not even covered by the media, require an investigation in order to ascertain who did it, when, how, and if possible, why.
Sometimes we have very little to start with so part of an OSINT analyst’s job is to find more data to add to the list that could answer some of the questions we are looking for. Perhaps a battalion moving through a town, maybe evidence of new graves in an area, or perhaps even firing positions that could be within range of a specific strike.
For all of that, it is necessary to find localised data that could be of aid in our investigation. In this article I will focus specifically on how to find geotagged footage on YouTube. I have used this tool (and technique) to find hundreds of videos, many extremely useful to get answers to some of our questions.
If you have never heard about geotagging you might be feeling a bit lost.
When adding videos on YouTube you have the option to select the location in which it was filmed. That information gets attached to the video and displayed just above the title, in a clickable text. This is a great feature when trying to find footage from a specific location.
Below you can see an example of a video geottaged to “Харків” (Kharkiv).
This all seems easy enough but what happens when a certain area of interest can’t be defined using just one word? Maybe it’s between towns, or perhaps there’s more than one language in the area, or you could even describe it in several different ways.
Let’s take the example of Kharkiv again. I quickly found several videos, all posted on the same day, April 21, 2022, and all geottagged using different words. The area is the same but the people who posted them chose to geotag them differently.
So how do we fix this issue? We find a tool that allows us to focus on the geographical area instead of the language used to describe it. That is where the tool I want to talk about comes in.
I came across this tool a while ago whilst looking for something to help me find geotagged YouTube videos specifically. As much as I find twitter and telegram extremely useful to find data from Ukraine, most of the footage shared on those platforms tend to be quite short, often less than a minute long.
I wanted to see if I could find longer footage and, with some luck, clear evidence of human rights violations that, during a conflict, would be considered war crimes.
YouTube Geofind, a tool developed by Matthew Wright, is free, gives you exactly what you’re looking for, and it’s an absolute must-have for OSINT analysts or anyone looking for specific footage on YouTube.
How to use YouTube Geofind
The tool is quite self explanatory but I will still go through the basics.
At the top of the website you have the option to search for channel, topic or location. For this tutorial I will only focus on the location section as it is the most relevant for the task at hand.
This is what you’ll see when you first open the website:
Now let’s imagine we are investigating the activity of the pro-Kremlin Chechen men that have been previously geolocated in the eastern coast of Mariupol. We specifically want to know if we can find any more footage of them around the area and, with some luck, evidence of them committing crimes. We also want to narrow our search to just 10 days, between the 19th March and the 27th March and with a radius of 4km with the centre on the last coordinates where I found them.
And below is what it looks like once I’m done with the settings. Highlighted in bright green are all the parts that I have changed to match my requirements.
I have entered my coordinates and the radius to 4km. Then I chose a custom time frame and set it to start on the 19th March 2022 and end on the 27th March 2022. I removed safe search and increased the page limit to the maximum allowed of 5 pages.
Below you can see on the map the area that my search will cover.
The search above gives me 10 geotagged videos and within them we can immediately spot our “friends”, Kadyrov’s men, in Mariupol within these dates. Now we just need to watch and analyse the videos and see if they are of use to us.
One of the things to be very aware of when looking at the results is to confirm that it is showing less than 250 geotagged videos. The reason for this is that 250 is the maximum number of results you’ll get, so if you reach the limit it means that some videos may have been removed from the list.
You can work around this by narrowing down the time frame so that you’re looking at less days and therefore getting less results, ultimately avoiding hitting that limit. Depending on the area of search you might have to narrow this down to just a day or two, especially when a lot of activity was happening within a certain time frame.
For example, if I were to use the same time settings as before but instead increase the radius of my search to 7km, I would hit the 250 video limit.
I can work around this issue by simply shortening my time frame and doing several searches.
Starting with a time frame from the 19th March to the 22nd March, I get 234 geotagged video results. Then from the 23rd March to the 25th March I got 247 results. Finally, searching from the 26th March to the 27th March gives me 230 results. This means I ended up with a total of 711 (!) instead of the 250 I got on my first search.
Finding geotagged footage is an extremely useful skill to master. But what if you could just use a tool to do it for you? YouTube Geofind is an amazing help when trying to find footage with very specific criteria. I would urge anyone to play with it and check all the options that I have not covered here.
I hope you found this tutorial useful.
Thank you for reading!