Monday, July 21, 2014

How Web archivists and other digital sleuths are unraveling the mystery of MH17

By Caitlin Dewey, WashPost, July 21 at 12:22 PM

In the agonizing quest to pin down exactly what happened when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down over Ukraine last week, Web archivists and other digital sleuths are playing an unusual — potentially pivotal — role.

Wayback Machine, the nonprofit Web crawler that archives old versions of Web pages, captured evidence last Friday that a pro-Russian group was behind the attacks. Meanwhile, @RuGovEdits — a Twitter bot that monitors Wikipedia edits made from Russian government computers — logged evidence that reflects Russia’s interest in deflecting the MH17 narrative elsewhere.

Both bits of evidence could prove important to understanding the crash and its political aftermath, particularly as investigators question the integrity of the crash site. But they’re also compelling examples of the Web’s ability to promote transparency and hold powerful people accountable for their words — even, or especially, when they delete them.

Perhaps no one knows that better than Igor Girkin, a pro-Russian separatist leader whose hyperactive profile on Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook clone, is regularly saved by the Wayback Machine. The administrators of Girkin’s page regularly post updates on the Ukrainian conflict from news sources, news conferences and Girkin himself. In fact, if you check the page now, you’ll see no fewer than a dozen updates on the crash, all blaming it squarely on the Ukrainian air force.

(More here.)


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