Archived Course

Investigative reporting in platforms: How to dig into social accounts, images, ads, and messaging apps

September 6 – October 10, 2021
Instructor(s):   Craig Silverman Jane Lytvynenko


Welcome to the Knight Center's new Big Online Course (BOC), "Investigative reporting in platforms: How to dig into social accounts, images, ads, and messaging apps," taught by Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko, two leading experts on online disinformation, fake news, and digital investigations. 

During five weeks, from September 6 to October 10, 2021, students will learn how to investigate key digital assets including social media profiles, digital ads, messaging apps, images, and video. The instructors will also teach how to create an efficient workflow to gather and organize the digital assets collected and other techniques to facilitate the work of journalists conducting investigations in the platforms, like social media and messaging services. Watch the video below and find more details on this page, including instructions on how to register.

This BOC costs $95, which includes full access to the course as well as a certificate of completion for those who meet the course requirements. Our BOCs provide a more advanced level of training and are limited to a few hundred students, allowing for greater interaction between the students and instructors.

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The course has reached full capacity and we are no longer accepting new students.

In this course, you will learn how to investigate key digital assets including social media profiles, digital ads, messaging apps, images and video. You’ll also learn how to create an efficient workflow to gather and organize the digital assets you collect.

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Analyze the digital footprint of people and social media accounts
  • Identify and follow the trail of digital ads on social media and websites
  • Geolocate images and videos, learn to analyze synthetic media
  • Identify public groups on WhatsApp and Telegram, and follow best practices for monitoring and analyzing them
  • Establish a workflow and toolkit for collecting and organizing digital assets during an investigation

The course is divided into five weekly modules:

Introduction Module: Fundamentals of Digital Investigations

In the introductory module, you will get an overview of the course structure and meet the instructors. You’ll also read about the fundamentals of digital investigations, and get your computer set up with the correct (free!) software and plugins.

Module 1: Investigating Social Media Profiles 
(September 6 - 12, 2021)
Jane Lytvynenko, senior research fellow, Shorenstein Center

To start, we’ll dig into fundamental approaches for investigating people and social media profiles. From searching on platforms, to using Google to expand and refine your queries, to bulk analysis of an account’s activity and network, this module helps you master techniques for online backgrounding.

This module will cover:

  • Using social media and public information to investigate a person
  • Reading social media profiles and finding networks
  • Advanced Google search techniques for investigating people

Module 2: Investigating Digital Ads
(September 13 - 19, 2021)
Craig Silverman, reporter, ProPublica

Online ads are an overlooked source of insights and data. You’ll learn how ads are placed on websites and apps, and apply this knowledge to follow the money trail to uncover interesting information.

This module will cover:

  • Using the Facebook and Google ad archives
  • Understanding how digital ads are placed on websites, and how to investigate them
  • Learning how to use free tools to analyze ad spend and creative

Module 3: Geolocation and Image Analysis
(September 20 - 26, 2021)
Jane Lytvynenko, senior research fellow, Shorenstein Center

Images and videos are some of the most popular content on the web, learning how to verify and analyze them is an essential skill for online investigations. With this module we’ll go beyond a simple reverse image search to learn geolocation, synthetic media analysis, and tracing images and videos across the web.

This module will cover:

  • Advanced reverse image and video search
  • Using Google Maps for Geolocation
  • Synthetic media tools and analysis

Module 4: Monitoring Messaging Apps
(September 27 - October 3, 2021)
Craig Silverman, reporter, ProPublica

Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram have billions of users around the world, but their private nature often limits our ability to investigate them. This module shows you how to find public groups on these apps, and how to gather interesting stats and data to inform your reporting.

This module will cover:

  • Ethical and security best practices for monitoring messaging apps
  • How to find public groups on WhatsApp and Telegram
  • How to monitor and analyse Telegram groups

Module 5: Workflow for Digital Investigations
(October 4 - 10, 2021)
Jane Lytvynenko and Craig Silverman

One of the most challenging aspects of digital investigations is ensuring you’re gathering and organizing all the profiles, maps, screenshots, and other information in a way that makes it easy to produce a story. It’s also important to set yourself up for future success by collecting the tools you need in an easy to access way. We’ll show you how.

This module will cover:

  • Best practices for collecting, archiving, and publishing
  • Auto-archiving to archive.org
  • Using tools like Hunchly and start.me for easy workflow

Craig SilvermanCraig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author and one of the world's leading experts on online disinformation, fake news, and digital investigations. He recently joined ProPublica as a reporter investigating voting, platforms, disinformation, and online manipulation. He's also the editor of the European Journalism Centre’s Verification Handbook series. Craig previously served as media editor of BuzzFeed News, where he pioneered coverage of digital disinformation and media manipulation. He received a George Polk Award in 2021 for a series of articles about Facebook, and is the recipient of the Carey McWilliams Award from the American Political Science Association, which honors “a major journalistic contribution to our understanding of politics.” His 2019 series exposing a global Facebook advertising scam was also named investigation of the year by the Canadian Association of Journalists.


janeJane Lytvynenko is an award-winning reporter in the field of disinformation and online investigations. She recently joined the Technology and Social Change Project at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University as a senior research fellow. At Harvard, she is focusing developing training on investigating disinformation and researching the issue for the Media Manipulation Handbook. Lytvynenko previously spent nearly five years at BuzzFeed News, where she was a senior reporter. Her work has focused on the rise of conspiracy theories, hyperpartisan news, and extremism globally. Her investigative work has uncovered a secretive extremist organization operating in the US, disinformation network operators who manipulate social media on behalf of state actors, and online hucksters seeking to scam people out of their livelihoods. Lytvynenko also pioneered a method bringing swift and accessible debunks to mass audiences during breaking news situations which has been replicated worldwide. Jane was born in Kyiv, Ukraine and resides in Toronto, Canada.

This course is open to anyone interested in learning about how to advance their digital investigative skills. Journalists, editors, librarians, researchers, students, and faculty should enroll. Those already involved in journalism and digital investigative work are encouraged to join the course to add to the discussion and provide additional insight on the topic.

This requires you to have access to an internet connection, the Chrome web browser, and to have your own Facebook and Twitter accounts. These accounts are required for the course. Please also get access to TweetDeck, and install the free WeVerify, CrowdTangle, and Wayback Machine Chrome extensions. (If you live in a country that doesn’t allow access to Google Chrome, you can use the Firefox web browser. It offers a version of the Fake news debunker plugin. You can also use the web version of the Wayback Machine, though unfortunately there isn’t a Firefox version of the CrowdTangle extension. Access to Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp is essential for this course.)

First of all, note that this is an asynchronous course. You can log in to the course and complete activities throughout the week at your own pace, at the times and on the days that are most convenient for you. We may do an occasional optional live event, but the course itself is asynchronous.

Despite its asynchronous nature, there are still structures in place for the duration of the course. The material is organized into five weekly modules. Each module will be taught by one of the course instructors (Jane Lytvynenko and Craig Silverman) and will cover a different topic through videos, presentations, readings, and discussion forums. There will be a quiz each week to test the knowledge you've gained through the course materials. The weekly quizzes and weekly participation in the discussion forums are the basic requirements for earning a certificate of participation at the end of the course.

This course is very flexible, and if you are behind with the materials, you have the entire length of the course to complete them. We do recommend you complete each of the following before the end of each week so you don’t fall behind:

  • Video lectures
  • Readings and handouts/exercises
  • Participation in the discussion forums
  • Quizzes covering concepts from video lectures and/or readings

The course will also include weekly office hours with the instructors and hands-on examples during lectures to help you learn. We will also welcome guest speakers during some weeks.

A certificate of completion is available for those who pay the $95 course fee and meet all of the course requirements. After verifying that these requirements have been met, the Knight Center will send a confirmation message with instructions on how to download the certificate. To be eligible for a certificate, you must:

  • Watch the weekly video classes and read the weekly readings
  • Complete weekly quizzes with a 70% minimum score. (You can retake the quizzes as many times as needed. Only the highest score will be recorded.)
  • Create OR reply to at least one discussion forum each week

The certificate of completion is included in the $95 course fee. No formal course credit of any kind is associated with the certificate. The certificate is awarded by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas to attest to the participation in the online course.