Using Instagram location data for investigative reporting

UPDATE, FEB 27 3:02 P.M. Jack Gillum of the AP was pressed on Twitter to explain more how he pulled accurate data for the scoop, as Instagram’s public posts (like this one, that is geolocated ‘Peoria, Ill’) is not exact. Gillum verified the information he used was correct by pulling geo-coordinates from Instagram’s API

Last night the Associated Press published an account of unethical actions taken by Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock with taxpayer and campaign funds. The actions, which include over a dozen flights taken on donor planes, were found by correlating Instagram location data with flight records and campaign expense reports.

This is an excellent example of how you can find sources by listening and following leads on social, the same way you would with analog reporting skills. Here are some other ways you can conduct investigative reporting on social:

  • Watch a certain location or topic’s subreddit for unusual or eyebrow-raising posts
  • Keep an eye on new trends and hashtags being used by your sources on Twitter
  • Use Facebook’s public post search functionality to find posts mentioning specific keywords
  • Use Twitter to monitor officials or others you are investigating, to watch for inconsistencies or red flags
  • Find content around a certain location using Facebook, Twitter, Gramfeed or other mapping tools
  • Create or join a Facebook group about a certain topic, and encourage others to post about what they’re seeing, their perspectives, as well as what makes them curious or suspicious.
  • Using your social following or a certain community to dig through data or online records
  • Use a site like Crowdmap to fuel community-based submissions and leads
  • Always ask “What did we miss?” after a story.

More from ICIJ: Social Media and Investigative Journalism


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