Today I bring a tutorial on using Snapchat and Snap Map to monitor, discover and save content related to developing crises.
Tools needed: Screen recording tool, Snap Map for web browser, Snapchat account, Google Chrome
How To: Use Snapchat to Spy on Emergencies
The three main platforms most open source researchers use to discover information during the fast-moving crisis are Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. This post will explain why Snapchat, and the interactive Snap Map in particular, should be added to this list of go-to platforms for monitoring and collecting content in real time.
Why use Snapchat
Snapchat is often overlooked by open source researchers due to its being one of the newer social media platforms targeting young demographics, and its design, which focuses more on users keeping in touch with friends than promoting news or other information.
However, in July 2019, Snapchat reported that it had 203 million daily active users, more than 60 million more than Twitter, and uploaded more than 3.5 billion “Snaps,” or individual pieces of content, every day. So why aren’t more OSINT researchers using it in their research?
The unique design of the app presents many challenges for use in many research situations. First, there’s no option to search for content based on keywords or other filters. Second, all content uploaded to the platform has a short lifespan, disappearing after 24 hours, making it an ineffective tool for discovering content related to past events.
Where Snapchat can come into play, as researchers at the Digital Verification Corps (DVC) discovered through our recent protests in Iraq, Chile, and Hong Kong, is in monitoring ongoing situations, especially those that are highly localized.
This could include demonstrations along specific streets, or reported airstrikes in specific neighborhoods. Using the app’s built-in Snap Map tool, which allows users to search publicly shared snapshots based on their location data at the time of upload, OSINT researchers can focus on locations of interest and access data shared from those coordinates within the past 24 hours. content stream. This often provides extensive coverage of ongoing events.
Also, since at the time of writing, everything shared to Snap Map requires the user to turn on location sharing, Snap Map offers a fairly solid geotagging system, and since the content is only hosted by the app for 24 hours, everything is Will be kept up to date within a day of the researcher’s visit. This facilitates both verification and access to corroborative accounts of the same event.
A snapshot map view of London during the ‘ terror incident ’ on London Bridge on November 29, 2019
How to use snap maps
While you can access the Snap Map through the Snapchat mobile app, most OSINT researchers prefer to use the tool on desktop via a web link map.snapchat.com Navigating to this page will open an interactive map that researchers can use Cursor click on a specific location or search for the name of the city or place where you want to see the content. Users can also use the “+” and “-” buttons in the lower right corner of the map to zoom. Doing so will show the map in more detail, including the names of specific neighborhoods, streets, and even individual buildings.
The snap map is designed as a heatmap. The light blue area is the location where the snapshot was taken, while the yellow, orange, or red area represents a large number of snapshots uploaded from this location. Some of these “hot” areas may also be marked as part of a particular “story” created around a particular place or event, such as the above example marked “horror” in London in November 2019. Clicking on any of these areas will prompt a separate window showing a constant stream of all snapshots taken at that location or linked to that story.
The snippet below shows an example of how Amnesty International researchers were able to use Snap Map to monitor protests in Karbala, Iraq.
In the video above, you’ll notice that some clips also include an overlayed yellow square around the avatar icon. These are called Snapcodes, and serve as a way to identify Snapchat users to add as friends, allowing you to access their personal stories that would otherwise not appear on the Snap Map.
If there are specific users who regularly post survey-related content on Snap Map and want to see if they have shared additional material in their personal stories.
To scan a Snapcode, you must download the Snapchat app on your mobile device and create a personal account (preferably with a burner phone). Using Snapchat’s Camera screen, press and hold the Snapcode on the Snap you want to scan, and after a few seconds, the linked account name should appear with the option to “Add a friend.”
How to keep content from Snapchat
Whether viewing a publicly shared Snap or a friend’s personal story on the Snap Map, one of the challenges of using Snapchat for OSINT research is the ad-hoc nature of the content. Therefore, in order to use Snapchat for investigations, there needs to be a way to record and store the uploaded content as a permanent file.
One of the best ways to do this is to use a screen capture app to simply record your screen as you navigate around Snap Map. That’s how the aforementioned Karbala video was made, allowing footage within it to be verified, analysed and used in Amnesty’s reporting without fear that it would disappear before the final report was released. There are many screen capture apps you can buy and download for this purpose. However, this post will focus on free apps built into Mac and PC systems.
Built-in screen recorder on Mac
If you’re using macOS Mojave, you can already access the screen recorder included with the operating system. Simply type [Shift]+[⌘]+ on the keyboard to bring up controls for capturing video and still images from the desktop. You can choose to record the entire screen or just a portion of the screen, and many other settings can be adjusted in the Options tab.
If you are using a different version of macOS, you can still record your screen using the preinstalled application Quicktime Player. With the app open, go to “File” and select “New Screen Recording”. Click the big red circle to start recording. Click again to record the entire screen, or click and drag to select a portion of the screen to record.
Built-in screen recorder on PC
Windows 10 has a built-in screen recorder included with the pre-installed Xbox Game Bar app. With your browser open, tap “[Windows]+[G]” on your keyboard to open the Xbox Game Bar app, or search for and select the app in Windows Search. If prompted, click Yes, this is a game. Click “Start Recording” (large white circle) or hit [Windows]+[Alt]+[R] to start recording the screen while browsing the Snap Map. Use the same shortcut to stop recording when done. The recorded video will be saved as an MP4 file in the “Video/Capture” folder.
Download a single file using Google Chrome Developer Tools
One way to preserve content with Screen Recorder is to use the “Developer Tools” included in Google Chrome to download individual clips of interest directly from Snap Maps. In a Google Chrome window, open Snap Map.
Then, select the Customize and Control icon (three stacked dots in the upper right corner), and under More Tools, click on Developer Tools. Once there, select the ‘Network’ tab. When you click on the Snap Map stream, individual .mp4 files will appear in the Developer Tools window, allowing you to double-click the files you want to keep and download them directly from your browser. See Example below.
While the platform may be unfamiliar territory to some open source researchers, Snapchat and the built-in Snap Map offer exciting possibilities for OSINT investigations unlike those offered by other social media platforms.
The most obvious application of Snap Map is to monitor an unfolding crisis in near real-time and obtain witness accounts filtered by the exact location where the reported incident occurred. Few other tools provide such a precise way to gain a field perspective during mass protests, targeted attacks or other site-specific incidents.
However, its application is not limited to this. Snap Map can also be used with other satellite imagery and mapping tools to help geolocate specific content, potentially providing up-to-date imagery that can be searched to a specific location.
Its “heat map” feature may allow researchers to identify significant events, represented by dark red areas on the Snap Map, before they are reported by news organizations or shared on other social media platforms. In short, while open source researchers may not find a use for Snapchat in every survey, the app’s unique capabilities make it a valuable addition to any OSINT toolbox.