From Syria to Ukraine, social media opens up warfare

Wed Aug 6, 2014 1:25pm EDT
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By Peter Apps

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In 2013, Eliot Higgins used videos posted online from Syria to track weapons and pinpoint a chemical strike in Damascus from a computer in the English Midlands.

This year, the British blogger and activist is using the same techniques to investigate the missiles in Ukraine believed to have brought down Flight MH17.

As conflict flares in the Middle East and Ukraine, the number of images posted on social media is increasing exponentially, giving observers half a world away unprecedented visibility of events on the ground.

Footage and still photographs have helped activists and experts identify what they say are Iranian aircraft in Iraq, foreign arms - including U.S.-made rockets - in Syria and killings from Gaza to Nigeria.

Last week, 16-year-old Farah Baker attracted worldwide media coverage after covering a bomb attack near her Gaza home live on Twitter.

Intelligence agencies, security firms and human rights groups are all showing growing interest.

After Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was blown from the skies over eastern Ukraine last month, video and still photographs of a suspected Russian-built SA-11 surface-to-air missile launcher were quickly identified.

Using Google Streetview, Higgins and colleagues located each of the pictures along the main road route between Donetsk - the stronghold of Russian-speaking separatists - and the border town of Luhansk.At the same time others were plotting the location of parts of debris from the downed Boeing 777 well before international investigators were able to reach the scene.   Continued...