Echosec, Flashpoint’s Open-Source Intelligence Solution, Is the “Best Tool” for Citizen Journalist Website Bellingcat

Originally published on in 2015

The rapid growth and expansion of social networking and media-sharing websites have given rise to the popularity and development of citizen journalism.

The journalists who run Bellingcat, a website created to investigate current events using open-source information, needed the most effective online tool available. They decided to try Echosec, a location-based social media search platform by Flashpoint, to find out how it performed against comparable products. Not only did Bellingcat adopt Echosec as a primary tool in the work of its contributors, but it has also conducted workshops for journalists in which they demonstrate the effectiveness and promoted the use of Echosec among colleagues.

About the customer

Bellingcat was launched in 2014 and brings together contributors who specialize in open source and social media investigation and creates guides and case studies for the use of other citizen journalists to do the same. The site has published detailed reports of their research into various worldwide events that often do not receive widespread mainstream media coverage, including one that located a Russian Buk launcher in the region where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in 2014. Bellingcat’s findings provided key evidence to the Dutch Safety Board’s investigation into that incident.

A reliable, accurate search platform is instrumental to Bellingcat fulfilling its purpose. The site’s goals include: training and co-operating with journalists, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations; nonprofit, citizen-based groups that function independently of governments), and activists on online open source investigation; promoting the use of online open-source investigation among journalists, NGOs and activists; and to create networks of journalists, NGOs, and activists who can both work through and independently of Bellingcat. Working with such a diverse group of contributors, Bellingcat required a stable, reliable search tool that required little training to use and that provides up-to-the-minute and location-specific results.

Bellingcat contributors said that, prior to using Echosec, attempting to find posts from a specific location while being limited to keyword searches had been a big challenge while investigating a story. Finding a reliable service that wouldn’t disappear or shut down the next day when a slight change was made in the APIs (Application Program Interface: a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications) of relevant data sources, such as VK (a Russian social network) or Instagram. Multiple social media search tools were tried but over time, they all stopped working.

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