Netherlands, 2018. 1h 28min
Eliot Higgins was a 36-year-old who’d been laid off from his office job when, in 2014, he became influential in shaping some of the biggest stories in the global news. Self-described as «terribly nerdy» and shy around people, he was into online gaming and was spending most of his time on his computer when he wasn’t taking care of his child as a stay-at-home dad. In other words, he had a lifestyle and demeanour that were the antithesis of the stereotype of macho daredevilry we would normally associate with war reporting. But his sudden emergence as a journalistic force reflects much about the transformed nature of modern conflict and information warfare.
In our heavily mediated and footage-saturated world, we’re now just as likely to source evidence of what is going on in crisis zones from what is posted on the internet as we are from first-hand eyes on the ground. Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat, a website for open-source citizen investigation that aims to determine the truth of events in areas a reliable media source is not present, and to rigorously fact-check the claims of politicians by reading the vast digital trail of visual cues on the internet.
Sardonic criticisms of Eliot can easily tap into the unease surrounding the decline of professional journalistic authority in order to discredit his work.
The independent organisation, named after the fable about mice that plot to place a bell around a cat’s neck to render it harmless, now operates with a collective of ten core members who communicate online between their homes in Syria, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US. It’s the subject of Dutch filmmaker Hans Pool’s documentary Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World, a straightforward yet eye-opening run-down of the group and their activities.
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