More than 6,000 journalists from around the world signed up for the course “Digital investigations for journalists: How to follow the digital trail of people and entities,” which was held from Oct.5 to Nov. 1, 2020. A self-directed version of the course is now available, meaning resources, such as video lessons, readings and digital resources, are available for free on the Knight Center's online learning platform, JournalismCourses.org.
“The best part of the course was discovering hundreds of new tools for journalism work. I've been a journalist for almost 30 years, but most of the tools I learned about are new to me,” said U.S. journalist Joel Preston Smith, one of the course students.
The course, led by award-winning journalist Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News, teaches how to investigate and monitor people who are responsible for digital accounts on social media and who often use them to spread disinformation, attack political opponents and even journalists.
"We have more than 5,000 people from around the world, and they all seem to be taking the material seriously and coming up with great insights and feedback,” Silverman said at the beginning of the course.
“I became more aware and careful about the practice of doxxing. The Digital Investigations course helped me refine my priorities when framing stories, and made me learn a new-found respect for avoiding irrelevant content. I have started fact-checking and re-checking all my stories more diligently and intensely — with more patience than I used to — before hitting the ‘send’ button to my editors,” said Raj Rangarajan of the International Press Syndicate, who also took the course.
Divided into four modules, the course teaches how to investigate people and accounts on social networks, search techniques for research and monitoring, how to investigate websites and how to analyze networks.
“The main takeaway for me was that social media is an incredible archive of everything. I have learned how to search more effectively and how to use them for solving complicated tasks. I will use the learned skills both in my journalism work and in my organization called Fakescape. The project teaches students how to verify information via the internet, so the new tools discovered thanks to the course are super handy,” said Czech journalist and course student Tereza Kráčmarová.
In addition to Silverman, other instructors who contributed to the course were Brandy Zadrozny, from NBC News; Jane Lytvynenko, also from BuzzFeed; and Johanna Wild, from Bellingcat. In addition to videos and readings, the course also includes exercises for students to put into practice what they have learned.
“I plan to put what I learned into practice by using the different tools taught, in order to make my journalism investigation more efficient. The specific ways to search on engines, the different plugins, and image-check resources are just a few tools that are already making my work better planned and coherent,” said Chilean journalist Catalina Ramos.
“The tools, skills and processes taught in the course also help me be a better researcher. They've already had a huge impact on how efficiently I work,” Smith said. “Another great thing about the course is having instructors who are experts in the work, and who are actively engaged in OSINT and journalism. Just knowing who you're getting access to, and the depth of knowledge they have is motivation to adopt the skills and techniques they're teaching.”