Updated: Jul 14
Social media video content is often very important in investigative or analytical work. However, the unpredictable removal of content by platform policies or user choices often presents a hurdle. To overcome this, investigators and analysts need the ability to download and store content offline for analysis and investigational purposes, such as preserving evidence.
This guide provides techniques to accomplish this task without relying on web-hosted or third-party tools (where possible), thereby reducing privacy and attribution concerns.
Remember to respect trademark and copyright laws; OSINT Combine does not accept responsibility for misuse of these techniques.
Guiding Principle for obtaining source content
When videos are hosted on websites, they typically come in MP4 or WebM formats, delivered to users through embedded code. While this restricts direct downloads via a simple right-click, the content must originate from a source, usually a content-delivery-network (CDN). This offers an opportunity to access the content:
Open developer tools on your browser (Right-click > Inspect or selecting Ctrl + Shift + I on your keyboard) with the Google Chrome browser.
Play the video on the website.
Observe the network traffic and look for a .MP4 or .WebM file type. This is possible because the network panel of your browser's developer tools monitors all network requests made by the page, capturing the requests for video files.
Extract the link and use it to download the video directly.
This process is clearly articulated with Snapchat, and might vary depending on the platform and the format of the video content. In this blog, we have also described different methods for other major social media platforms.
Below are step-by-step guidelines demonstrating how to apply the principle on popular platforms.
Each platform might require slight variations in the approach.
For Snapchat, the steps are:
Go to Snapchat Map
Navigate to a location of your choice and investigate any current key events
Open developer tools (Ctrl + Shift + I).
Go to the Network Tab and filter for '.mp4'.
Double click on the relevant result (this opens a new tab).
Right-click and select 'Save As' to download the video.
When the network panel returns numerous results, look for larger files or refresh the page and replay the video to capture recent network requests. Keep in mind, this method may not always work on every website that uses different methods to deliver content.
TikTok allows users to download public videos from the platform directly. However, the availability of this feature is dependent on the privacy settings selected by the video's creator. Always ensure you respect the privacy and copyrights of all content creators. More details can be found on the official TikTok support page here.
The approach in Facebook varies slightly. Due to the availability of the static-html version of the site by visiting mbasic.facebook.com, we are able to do the process without developer tools.
Browse to the video of interest.
Switch the URL to the mbasic version (www.mbasic.facebook.com).
Click on the video (it will open in a new window).
Right-click on the video and select 'Save As'.
Unfortunately, our previous method of leveraging the YouTube content via WebM, and the VLC media player no longer work. However, we can leverage Invidious, which is an alternative front-end to YouTube.
It allows users to view YouTube videos and channels without requiring the use of Google's platform directly. Invidious provides a more lightweight and privacy-friendly viewing experience, and even allows users to download videos directly.
The link below will direct you to the Invidious documentation site that provides a list of public Invidious instances. An instance is a separately hosted version of the Invidious software. Multiple instances exist to distribute load, cater to different geographies, and offer redundancy in case any particular instance goes down.
Navigate to an Invidious instance (list available at Invidious Instances).
Search for the video you want to download.
Click on the video from the search results.
Below the video player, click the 'Download' button.
The download should start automatically.
Instagram, unlike some platforms, does not provide a direct way to download videos. As a result, third-party tools like Picuki or ImgInn can be useful. These services provide an easy-to-use interface that allows you to browse Instagram content and download it directly to your device, if the account is set to public.
The techniques and principles shared in this guide are simple and should be effective across not just the platforms discussed above, but most platforms delivering video content.
The developer tools in your browser are useful for downloading video content. They allow you to inspect network traffic and find the direct source of the video file.
Many social media platforms restrict direct downloads. However, by understanding how content is served to the end-user, you can bypass these restrictions and download videos directly.
To delve deeper into the learnings above or discuss how we can more broadly support or assist in uplifting your organisation's OSINT capability, please contact us about our NexusXplore platform, or our in-person and self paced training courses.