Eliot Higgins has achieved something remarkable by establishing a highly influential organization right from his own kitchen. this organization is dedicated to combatting the chaos caused by rampant disinformation and falsehoods disseminated by individuals, organizations, companies, and even nations.
the book takes us on a compelling journey, tracing Higgins’ path from his humble beginnings in his own kitchen, armed only with an internet-connected laptop, to the formidable position that Bellingcat holds today. (by the way, the name “Bellingcat” derives from the image of a bell attached to a cat’s collar, which serves to warn potential prey.)
Bellingcat represents a unique blend of a well-structured core group of researchers and specialists who tirelessly piece together the objective truth behind specific events, along with the invaluable contributions of hundreds, if not thousands, of dedicated volunteers who lend their support to the investigations. their collective efforts are nothing short of impressive, as you may already be aware.
from uncovering the identities of russian operatives responsible for shooting down the MH17 flight over Ukraine, to exposing the covert activities of Russian GRU agents involved in silencing one of their former agents on UK soil, and even unraveling the web of deceit spun by the al-Assad regime amidst the ongoing conflict in Syria, Bellingcat has consistently demonstrated its tenacity and commitment to revealing the truth.
not limited to international cases, Bellingcat has also taken on the Western media’s tendency to sensationalize news stories, shedding light on the culture of journalists seeking “juicy” information. remarkably, all of these achievements have been made possible through a combination of astute contacts, diligent online research, and the effective use of simple tools available through web browsers.
the work of Bellingcat serves as a testament to the power of open-source investigation and the potential for individuals and grassroots organizations to make a significant impact on the world stage.
in the digital age, the internet holds incredible potential as a tool for scientific advancement, education, and the preservation of knowledge. however, much like the visionary writer Stanisław Lem recognized back in the 1970s, it also serves as a vast repository for humanity’s darkest and most distorted ideas. the internet has become a breeding ground for fake news, and fabricated videos are becoming increasingly prevalent, making it challenging to discern what is relevant and true amidst the onslaught of misinformation.
nevertheless, the presence of organizations like Bellingcat, who tirelessly work to uncover deception and ensure that both major and minor acts of wickedness do not go unpunished, instills a glimmer of hope. they are not alone in their endeavors, as there are other groups dedicated to the pursuit of truth. however, their existence also raises profound questions about the nature of it all - what drives individuals and organizations to engage in such relentless pursuits? how do we navigate this complex landscape and maintain a firm grasp on reality in the face of rampant falsehoods?
the tension between the internet’s potential for good and its capacity to perpetuate falsehoods underscores the need for critical thinking, media literacy, and a discerning eye when consuming information. it reminds us of the ongoing struggle to find a balance between the advantages and perils of our increasingly interconnected world.
China has devoted significant efforts to developing an alternative to the existing IP protocol, albeit concealing their true intention of establishing absolute surveillance and identification over every individual and aspect of society. the motivations behind this pursuit become evident when observing China’s treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as their extensive control over information flow. it is not only China that embraces such tactics; other authoritarian regimes, including russia, Turkey, North Korea, Myanmar, and others, recognize the potential freedoms and risks associated with the internet and eagerly seek opportunities to assert control over it, taking advantage of willing participants.
technology vs people
allow me to briefly digress while remaining on the topic at hand.
the delicate balance between freedom of speech and the overwhelming, aggressive dumpster-level content generated by self-absorbed “influencers” or deliberately fabricated “truths” is an immensely challenging issue. it is important to recognize that this problem has persisted for several decades, and we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that technology alone will provide a solution. as someone who has been involved in technology for 25 years, I can attest that it has not autonomously resolved any problem. however, it is undeniable that people using technology have made an impact.
the decline in standards, which is evident both globally and within our own country, is undoubtedly linked to a lack of education, common sense, and the ability to envision the future rationally. we must consider not only ourselves but also others, including those who are more vulnerable in various aspects. education is the only viable solution, and thanks to the Internet, it is now readily accessible (provided one has internet access and a suitable device, which remains a fundamental challenge in in Poland’s e-learning landscape).
adopting a sensible approach to consuming news, making informed decisions at the local level, and consciously opposing the noise of misinformation and mindlessly shared “news” are among the most crucial and practical actions individuals can take today.
a few years ago, I shared an idealistic idea with my technologically inclined friends. it was an idea to create another “social” platform focused exclusively on verifiable, objectively true news. looking back, I realize how naive I was and how little I knew about the moral and technical complexities that now plague the market giants. that’s what friends are for — to gently dissuade you from pursuing truly foolish endeavors while still maintaining a lighthearted perspective.
nevertheless, the underlying problem persists, leaving us to wonder when and how we will manage to resolve it as a global society. I hold onto a utopian belief, perhaps relying on the responsible development of AI, but for now, organizations like Bellingcat must continue to exist to safeguard citizens from governments and sift through the digital chaff to distinguish falsehood from truth.
is it worth it? I mean - buying the book?
definitely worth buying and reading, although the group’s website has much more detail about the individual investigations and cases that Bellingcat has dealt and is dealing with. the book can therefore be a break in the reading of collected and publicly available materials - or, if you do not know the group at all yet - an excellent introduction to this in-depth reading.