The battle of Hodeidah was the apogee of Yemen’s forgotten war, culminating in a truce agreement in late 2018 which halted six-months of brutal urban warfare.
The fight to gain control of the strategic port city was covered for Ruptly by an on-the-ground freelance stringer who provided us with first-hand video which, however reliable, was reviewed for validity before publication to our clients.
A news verification case study by the Ruptly Verification Unit details the validation methods we applied to the footage from the conflict.
The case study footage features Saudi-led coalition forces and Houthis fighting for supremacy in eastern Hodeidah in November 2018.
Our investigation focuses specifically on the events leading up to November 11, 2018 — the date our stringer provided the footage we highlight here.
In our verification of this footage we cross-checked information provided by our stringer against secondary online sources in order to develop a comprehensive map of the battle in the days preceding November 11.
We geolocated elements in our video and made topographical comparisons of buildings to affirm that it was from that specific urban battleground.
The result was that we concluded our footage had been recorded on the day it was received — November 11.
Following our verification, the video was distributed to our clients on November 12.
This case study aims to provide an insight into our verification methods. Its intention is to demonstrate that we care deeply about the accuracy of our content — the high-quality journalism of our stringers is our responsibility and is demanded by our clients.
Our validation process of the footage we were receiving from the battleground found that information published by another news-gathering organisation contained an inaccuracy.
In the nature of transparency, we informed AP of the issue who informed us that they took action.
Covering the war in Yemen presents challenges and complications to the industry, which a process of validation and verification, powered by open-source, can help offset.
The high potential for risk and error encouraged our very decision to launch a unit dedicated to this process — and we aim to make a contribution to an industry pushing as one for the highest standards of journalism.
In this section we explain the steps we took to build a timeline of the key events that happened in the days leading up to November 11, mapping out the frontline locations in order of sequence as reported by our stringer and other second-hand online sources.
A mapped-out timeline provided a radius to pinpoint buildings and structures in our footage.
Here we outline our full process:
The YouTube account connected to the Saudi-led government forces [translated into English as the Giants Brigade] published two separate videos of its armed forces beginning their approach to Hodeidah.
Two days later, the Giants Brigade published an article on its website that reported its forces as getting closer to the city’s university quarter. The newspaper Al-Bayan corroborated the same information with quotes from Giants Brigade sources.
Youm 7 published similar reports that the Giants Brigade forces had gained control of the university quarter, making reference to a roundabout at the eastern side of the city.
Another Giants Brigade video shows the distinct shape of the flour mill located on the eastern outskirts of the city. We matched this structure with images from Google Maps and a Mapio geopinned image [see image composition below].
The roundabout and the flour mill are at the entrance of Sanaa Road, the main artery road into the city. These were our first points of reference. It was at this point that we began to illustrate what we knew so far of the battleground using Google Maps.
Ruptly published its first video — pertaining to the November battle — filmed near the flour mill.
We pinpointed City Max on the map — 1.7km from the roundabout — and found numerous geolocated images to aid our orientation of the area.
Ruptly published more footage provided by our stringer, filmed on Sanaa Road.
The same day Al Jazeera reported that government-backed forces had seized the May 22 hospital.
We located the hospital on our map and found it was located in this precise area of intense urban warfare — 1.7km from City Max and 2.7km from the roundabout.
On November 11, we received more footage — the third file we received in as many days from our stringer documenting the battle around the university quarter.
In our verification of this footage we connected the scene to events taking place in the university quarter by pinpointing some of the structural elements seen.
We geolocated the Ekhwan Mosque (also known as Ekhwan Thabet) on Sanaa Road. It is the only mosque within the radius of our sequence of events and we can make out minaret structure of the building [see below composite of our footage and Google Maps image].
We attributed the billboards advertising dairy products to the close proximity of the Yemeni Dairy Manufacturer — close to the Ekhwan Mosque and within the mapped-out battleground radius.
A Facebook post shared by the Giants Brigade on November 11 reported battles taking place around the May 22 hospital and in the vicinity of adjacent neighbourhoods, east of Hodeidah. Despite its partisan posture, it helped corroborate the continued events in our area of focus.
Our investigation concluded with certainty that the footage was filmed the day previous on November 11, allowing us to publish to our clients with a verification process that added validity to the high-quality of work produced by our stringer.
Note: Not all of the above information is contained in our video due to time constraints.