The search for truth is at the heart of Hans Pools documentary Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World. It tells the story of a group that searches out the truth in news stories, even when powerful nations seek to hide behind lies.
Bellingcat is a multi-national collective of citizen open-source investigative journalists. They are people with expertise in various subjects. They use online information in amazing ways to ferret out the truth of world events. This ranges from identification of perpetrators of violence in Charlottesville, verifying bombings in Syria, the poisoning of a Russian dissident, and more.
Much of the film involves Bellingcat’s investigation of the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airline flight MH-17 by Russian (or pro-Russian) forces in Ukraine. It is amazing the amount of evidence about the incident and the weapons systems involved these people were able to find online, such as seeing the movement of the convoy the day of the attack. But it is not just finding the information, it is also a matter of interpreting the information.
As professional journalism continues to struggle to stay afloat, the role of citizen journalist is expanding. Of course, that raises questions of professional standards and reputation. For professional journalism, trust is often based in the institution and our perception of its reliability, whether that is BBC, Fox News, or the New York Times. But citizen journalists establish trust through transparency, showing the evidence they have accumulated and verifying its accuracy.
Much of the work of Bellingcat deals with the disinformation that is spread by official and unofficial channels. It is more than just fact-checking. It often means that they have to find evidence that disputes the message that is being sent out. We see the results of some of the investigations they have done, but we need to realize that it is because of long, complicated investigations. Watching them explain where they found all the evidence is impressive, but more impressive is how hard it must have been to find it all in the enormous cyber universe. At times Bellingcat has determined things to be fact before official investigators have.
We are bombarded by news and fake news every day. It can be difficult to wade through it all and judge where the truth lies. This film takes us inside a group that is working to overcome the lies with truth that they can back up.
Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World is available on DVD.