Ukrainian social media exploded with conspiratorial theorizing and foreboding expectations of the worst even before authentic information began to emerge from Western Intelligence officials. The spouses of the Ukrainian flight crew wept uncontrollably at a makeshift memorial and mountain of roses at Kyiv’s Borispyl airport. Ukrainian internet news portals ran shocking reports from the 45 Ukrainian experts who had arrived in Tehran to take part in the investigation. The faces of the 11 Ukrainian flight crew, all dead and all young, were inescapable.
To confirm the worst, Ukraine had to rely not on its international partners or the responsible Iranian aviation authorities but, like the rest of us, on ‘digital’ investigative units operating from open source materials found online. In 2015, organizations such as Bellingcat deployed cutting-edge technological methods to cut through the poisonous fog of Kremlin denials and disinformation regarding the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by a Russian BUK missile. Those methods have since become democratized. Every serious newsrooms now knows them, except this time that process can been completed in a day rather than over the course of weeks. Collectively, the denizens of the internet now form an amateur intelligence agency whose prowess rivals that of major state competitors.