Digital investigations for journalists

September 9, 2020

Digital investigations: New online course teaches journalists how to follow the digital trail of people and entities

This post is also available in: English Spanish Portuguese (Brazil)

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is offering the free online course, “Digital investigations for journalists: How to follow the digital trail of people and entities,” to help journalists obtain the tools necessary to investigate and monitor those behind social media accounts.

The MOOC (massive open online course) will be held from Oct. 5 to Nov. 1, 2020, during four weeks, on Journalism Courses, the distance learning platform of the Knight Center.

Register now for this free course online here.

Digital investigations for journalists

Regardless of a journalist’s beat, any story will most likely have a digital element involved, according to BuzzFeed News media editor Craig Silverman, who will be leading the free course. For this reason, it is valuable to do digital monitoring, research and investigation to verify that the information aligns with what these entities are saying.

“This course is really essential because it can give any journalist from any beat essential tools and techniques and guidelines for how to bring that digital investigative component to what they are doing,” Silverman said.

Silverman added that these tools can help journalists in background digging, fact-checking, and understanding the value and ethics of a product and digital presence of those they are investigating.

In addition to Silverman, the course will also have three other experienced journalists as instructors: Brandy Zadrozny, NBC News; Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News; and Johanna Hall, Bellingcat. Each journalist will be responsible for one of the four weekly modules of the MOOC.

“We have fantastic instructors who are joining me in this course,” Silverman said. “These are people who every single day are doing really bleeding edge, innovative digital investigations for really great news organizations. It’s wonderful that we have different instructors with different areas of expertise who are all leaders in their field coming in.”

“This course is about cutting-edge techniques for investigative journalists,” said professor Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center. “We are proud to have recruited a team of amazing instructors, led by Craig Silverman, a pioneer and leader in the relatively new field of digital investigative reporting.  Any journalist, no matter whether she or he uses the label of ‘investigative’ could benefit a lot from this course in very practical ways.”

The course will be divided into four weekly modules, each one with a specific topic:

  • The use of social media and public information to investigate who is really behind a social media account.
  • Techniques for monitoring, investigating, and searching within social media platforms, as well as verifying images and videos.
  • How to investigate and analyze the content and records of a website.
  • Basics of network analysis, and how to apply it to digital investigations.

The course “Digital investigations for journalists: How to follow the digital trail of people and entities” is open to anyone who is interested in learning about how to investigate digital content and accounts.

Silverman said he hopes students walk away at the end of the course having learned the basic fundamentals of digital research techniques and approaches so they can have a stronger starting point when working on their beat and starting their research, and so they can get better quality information on the person or entity they are investigating.

“By being equipped with these tools and techniques, you can better defend yourself and better spot signs of manipulation when you are doing reporting,” Silverman said. “Because one of the things that we want to really avoid here is journalists falling for bad information, journalists amplifying trolling campaigns or hoaxes. Having a grounding in these types of digital investigative techniques and approaches will help defend you against being tricked as well.”

The course is asynchronous, which means there will be no live events scheduled at specific times. You can log into the course and complete activities at your own pace, at times and on days that are most convenient for you.

Click here to register for this course.

About Instructors

Craig 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 is the media editor of BuzzFeed News where he covers platforms, online disinformation, and media manipulation. Craig is also the editor of the European Journalism Centre’s Verification Handbook series. He was named to the Politico 50 for his work exposing fake news and its effect on American politics, 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.”

Brandy Zadrozny is an award-winning investigative and features reporter for NBC News where she covers misinformation, extremism, and the internet. This year alone, she’s written definitive stories on the QAnon conspiracy, Trump propaganda outlet The Epoch Times, and the profiteers behind the rising anti-vaccination movement and coronavirus misinformation online. Previously, Brandy was at The Daily Beast where she covered politics and the internet as a senior reporter. She has an MLIS and in a former life, worked as a librarian and instructor in news, college, and public libraries.

Jane Lytvynenko is an award-winning reporter at BuzzFeed News where she focuses on disinformation, cyber security, and online investigations. Jane has uncovered social media manipulation campaigns associated with state actors, financially-motivated bad actors spreading disinformation, and key data breaches. Her work also brings accessible fact-checking to wide audiences during times of crisis.

Johanna Wild is an open source investigator at Bellingcat and is passionate about tech and tool development for digital investigations. She has a journalism background and spent several years in (post-)conflict regions where she supported journalists from Eastern Africa and the Middle East to investigate and report on local conflict dynamics.