Category Archives: Mapping

Op-interest: On Opinions + OpSec

On of my Webster Words-of-the-Day this week was “opine,” the act of having and stating an opinion. It’s something that I do often on my blog, but am encouraged to stem for a more objective perspective when it comes to professional data vis stuffs and news publications. Journalism solicits an ideally balanced representation of information, but as with any domain touched by human fallibility, it’s vulnerable to bias.

asikstaliban-def

 

The Swedish have an interesting word for one-sided opinions: Åsiktstaliban, defining a group of people who tolerate only one opinion and can be colloquially synonomized with and global violence; and so this blog post is going to address opinion diversity and operational security, two poles of a global approach to citizen journalism and political activism. It seems an appropriate post in the days following September 11th and the tragic anniversary of the Westgate mall attacks, and definitely something that has peaked my [op]interest with as yet feeble articulation these past few months.

Like many developer-journos, I’ve been following the more tragic and graphic media reports out of Iraq, Gaza, and Syria lately. Jonathon, one of our developers at Ushahidi and Chris, his partner on the CrisisNET project, created a timeline of ISIS happenings a few weeks ago, followed by subsequent investigations of conflict in Iraq and Gaza, and this had me reading more about security and media verification for journalists in the Middle East, and otherwise hostile-to-media and humanity areas.

I touched on these topics briefly during my panel at HOPE-X with Harlo Holmes and Barton Gellman (livestream here), and again during our workshop on opsec last week and the Buenos Aires Hacks/Hackers Conference.

opsec2-paneltweet

But independent of my own stuff, there’s a recent trend in crowdsourced citizen journalism that I want to encourage and support professionally and just personally. Part of supporting that initiative is providing open source tools to enable citizen reporters (like those in Ushahidi’s Toolbox), but part of it is also just sharing information openly about authoritative sources.

crisis-response

This is a good place to promote Bellingcat, and other work aimed at armoring activists, newsies, and the general public with information. While it probably won’t keep extremists from more barbarous and cowardly expressions of violence, being informed is non-trivial in the fight against global rights violention. A lack of information historically and consistently is the root of epic geopolitical blunders, tragic massacres, ignorance and ignoring of massive human rights transgressions, globally. To that end, and in a modest objection to the wave Åsiktstaliban media, I’ve assembled a small collection of links and sources to keep apprised of what is happening in places that are remote from my current locale. I’d love to solicit others so I’ve made a form at the bottom of this blog for collecting relevant media sources and tracking the safety of embedded journalists in the Middle East.

  • The New York Times had pretty decent coverage, McClatchy’s wires on the Middle East and the Guardian’s Liveblog have been pretty consistently informative
  • On twitter, I follow Blogs of War (@blogsofwar), and some specific journalists embedded in regions of interest (@BklynMiddleton, @IvanCNN, @Matthew__Barber, @Mudar_Zahran, @jrug, @abumuqawama, @joshuafoust,@combatjourno,@SajadJiyad,@RaquelEvita,@DrZuhdiJasser,@majidrafizadeh,@Reem_Abdellatif,@WalidShoebat)
  • I’ve started reading local bloggers and certainly Bellingcat
  • Vox had a pretty o.k. abbreviated breakdown of the current affairs vis-à-vis ISIS, HuffPo has a decent world roundup as well

But despite the intense media house coverage, I find myself often returning to individual blogs and the work of lone journalists; I think this trend is significant and I’m sure shared by many given the popular response to citizen journo-projects like Bellingcat. I find most embedded journalistss and local citizens to be the most informative for thorough and unapologetically blunt coverage.

israel

 

wtf

As a personal/pseudo-professional aside, we’ve (@Ushahidi) also been working on an implementation of some data visualizations for election monitoring in Yemen, and this had me researching more of the political climate there (so samples below).

prototypes

preview of Ushahidi V3 Viz

I’ve been wanting to build a visualization of global disappeared populations, of which there are many, in almost every country. Those that we hear about more often harken back to Colombia and Argentina circa the 1970s persistently through today, or more recently the 600+ Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, the Yazidi women kidnapped by IS affiliates, or the Zone 9 Ethiopian journalists still detained in East Africa. When a country succumbs to brutal regime rule, it’s often the journalists, the vocal activists, and the outspoken citizenry spreading independent opinion and information about injustice that become the targets of violence and effacement tactics. Information becomes a target, and those who process and disseminate it are vulnerable to attack.

soltoff

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 2.35.38 PM preview of Ushahidi V3 Viz – gender counts

Perhaps some of their anecdotes and needs are things we might accommodate in the newer version of Ushahidi, or in CrisisNET, our pretty rad aggregator of social and streaming data on the global crisis situation, unified in a single API. And while there are many visualizations and representations of the statistics around targeted terrorist groups, a direct comparison between the composition of the victim population and the terrorist perpetrators is something perhaps worth investigating. A recent open analysis on government documents about outstanding terrorist threats and the TIDE “watchlist” (see also TIME, The Atlantic) reveals some interesting statistics about the paucity of females associated with violence as terrorists, but the general density of females associated with violence as victims.

TIDE by the Numbers

watchlist-by-gender2 of the 9 detained Ethiopian journalists were women, 600+ of the Nigerian girls where; a substantial portion of the limited documentation on Syrian disappeared citizens catalog female adults and children, and coupled with the female rights violations in Yemen, the disappeared counts are also substantial; the same goes for Turkey and countless other nations who’ve only begun to catalog disappearances publically. The Support Yemen Project has done some work to publicize the circumstances surrounding human rights and free expression throughout Yemen as has the AHA Foundation, in addition to logging the impact of terrorism and counter-terrorism, and yet much of my more informed perspective on women’s issues and violence in Yemen stems from the posts of a Yemenese female blogger. Again, my focus returns to local journalists independent of media affiliation. And while females are not the sole-authors covering female rights, the dangers faced by female journalists in terror zones corroborated with some recent reports from the NYTimes and the Huffington Post, as well as some more general blogposts on women’s rights violations authored by the aformentioned lone-journos I follow on Twitter. The circumstances demand a more responsible way to monitor and vet on-the-ground activity and reports, and increasingly social media monitoring and crowdsourcing applications are providing these windows to supplement the occasional blog post and media supported piece.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 11.58.22 AM

This made me consider the unknown, and absence of information as an important root to some of the more brutal disappearances, and particularly lead me to consider the position of citizen-journalists who seek to amplify information about a space and are subsequently pushed by kidnapping, eradication, or imprisonment and public execution. Information is sometimes the most dangerous currency to smuggle from a vacuum, it can mobilize nations to send aid or commence peace talks, it can prompt the vicious reactions of groups who would execute victims to deter action, it can push citizens to technological circumvention tools in an effort to counter the habitual throttling of their internet access. It’s one of the more noble vocational pursuits to propagate honesty in a sea of redirection and rumor, and it’s something that can be enabled and aided by technology. Given my recent research and just general current events, I’m incredibly humbled that I get the opportunity to work on technology for crowdsourcing and spreading information, and so I wanted to address how we’re tackling the vulnerability of information providers with our tech at Ushahidi and our trainings at Internews.

journo-attack

In terms of self and source protection, Harlo and I have compiled some applications that can help with operational security for journalists, and this applies to citizen journos as well.

opsec-resources

 

In terms of source verification, CrisisNET has prepped a roadmap series of features to integrate the likes of TinEye, and twitter verification via TweetCred. To that end, the devs at CN wrote about this application of authenticity readings to the CN service vis-à-vis  the IDF/Gaza conflict  recently. We’re working to build more security into Ushahidi’s platform as well, and otherwise increase the availability of our technology through much needed translation efforts. Like most of the platforms we provide, we rely often on crowdsourcing and community participation to complete the arc of their utility, and we’re hoping our community will help make our products better.

Outside our own repertoire, there’s a beta product called Scraawl that also aims to provide streaming data about large scale graph and social media collections. There are further, plenty of ways to contribute to crowdsourced journalism projects: join Open Reporter, a platform for free and open news, or Open Street Map, a crowdsourced program for mapping the globe, or Project Fission, an open source project to manage reporters’ notes and stats. Opine and add-to where possible, open information and citizen journalism still source some of the most up-to-date coverage of crisis worldwide.

jihad

Meantime, I’ll close with a more positive piece, reblogged to oblivion, on Yemen, a link to some github to watch as we move more data viz into Ushahidi’s core, and request eagerly any blogs/sources to watch below:

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Parallax Effects: Modern Map Moving in Interactive News

yelp-map-mover-bubbleUntil a few months ago, Yelp featured a modal pop-up when users tried to click-drag the slippy map provided to situate search results according to a local topography. The prompt was “Hey Map Mover?…blahblah ” and I used to think it was another annoying modal, but now I think it’s a rather magical metaphor for the kind of awesome power involved in building visual representations of complex information, aka maps.

I think about this moreso now that I work for a company that builds maps, and think progressively about the map as a super-class of data visualization, under which all other data visualizations cascade. Maps are unique because they provide link to data collected and clouded online, and the physical topography of our global world; they bridge physical (real) and digital (surreal?) in the same attractive fabrication; they also provide a sense of trajectory, travel, and movement. I’ve written about this special quality of maps in some map-love blogs in the past, but its recent relevance seemed to warrant another post. It’s in this context of map-making and movement that I think about my job in Open News and open source software, and it’ll take a bit of a preamble, but this blog post is going to address all of those things.

Parallax Projects

I’ll start with a small anecdote. Recently, and independent of my fellowship, I had the opportunity to collaborate on parallax projection installation at the Museum of Holography on Governor’s Island. Like most of my side projects it was weird and largely web-based (see my radio show, or bio art projects for further reference) and was a collab project with another friend. My “real” work, which I allude to loosely and often on this blog involves development and data viz via a fellowhsip with Knight-Mozilla Open News, coding for for two organizations that build curriculum and technology tools for citizen journalism in East Africa. I’m passionate about all of these things, professional and peripheral projects. And as their linked by a shared trend toward constant iteration and movement, they’re not completely divorced from the parallax concept that drove my holography art project, if only because the moveable and mutable qualities shared between these things seem to theme them quite neatly and help explain why they are compelling, at least from my perspective.

more MerryTimes

I think we see parallax most often in the context of jazzy-layered web techniques, where scrolling interaction reveals movement via a multiplicity of tiled images. Likewise, ‘parallax’ is pretty important for all kinds of optical assessments, depth perception and distance inference; it’s a good metaphor for describing alternative perspectives on a distant trajectory endpoint, which by extension is a good metaphor for describing career paths and their pref-the-path-less-traveled discontents. I’m of the mind that things I do and enjoy are pretty awesome; though I respect that alternative perspectives exist. I thought I’d write a post to cover some recent work and play projects with parallax, a little description of my day-to-day, and the pretty awesome (IMHO) projects I have the privilege to contribute to as an Open News Fellow, in echo of my fellow fellows

It helps that ‘parallax’ a pretty popular buzzword these days on the web and in journalism. It crops up in NYTimes visuals, in Joni Mitchell-inspired xkcdsin topojson Bostockian demos; sometimes it can look like this, or otherwise like this. Check the links or inline images to see what I mean.

nytimes

My parallax projection project with Julian Burgess, a brilliant programmer at Bloomberg who’s CSS transition foo was so choice for this project, was not as intense or playful as others in the myriad definitions applied to parallax code-wizardry and projection art. It’s some solid hyperlocal-fun about fuzzy riverscapes and insular environments. The general objective of parallax visuals, ZUI interfaces, and anything that implies movement on a 2D screen is to immerse you in an environment or a static scene and draw you into the automagic of its motion. Constant motion, “agile” development, characterizes a lot of technology and journalism of late as well, and parallax has become a pretty popular and loosely applied concept in the realm of online interactives and visual data re:presentations.

more MerryTimes

Movement and the Making of Open Maps

http://andrevv.com/But back to how this relates to my current condition and career path plan. I think about parallax and movement a lot when I describe the agility and adeptness that my job requires, and the kind slurry of opportunities the Open News Fellowship provides.

On the daily, I juggle lots of things working for two software and data-driven journalism programs (Ushahidi and Internews-Kenya). My coding projects range from contributing to open source citizen journalism and crowdsourcing platforms like Ushahidi Version 3.0, or 30 year retrospective interactives studying the semantics of socio-political perspective on East African health, or providing visualizations of violence report data as part of election monitoring initiatives in Yemen and Nigeria, or plotting environmental sensor data from collection stations across Tanzania in a web-based viz series. As asides, I develop courses and curriculum for a non-profit that I help run in NYC called Girl Develop It and mentoring budding coders at the Academy for Software Engineering in New York. Tacking on the weekly radio show, and occasional art projects; I accumulate an impressively deep collection of random. Point being, I learn constantly, work assiduously and have the opportunity to meet at conferences and in collab code sessions with some of the most impressive, genuine and amazing humans in the tech/journalism space.

In my short (now 6 month-ish) tenure as a fellow, I’ve traveled to five continents, lived on two, attended over 10 conferences, spoken at 8 of them, built open source projects with collaborators at 5 of them. You can check my commit history on github or my fellowship repo where I’ve been tracking projects and speaking engagements, including my now rather abortive attempt to convert github issues into a todo list manager for my all of my talks and tasks. For now, I’ve been logging my ongoing projects, conference notes, and both present and potential work thereabouts, and so the version-controlled storage model provides pretty fair understanding of the constant change, abrupt but amazing shifts, prolific blogposting, and pretty persistent parallaxes of my fellowship program.

githug

And not to be too simultaneously overly-alliterative and Cindy-Lou-Who-twee with the parallax refs, but I think some of the most important developments of this experience haven’t been logged in a blog post or my tech-tonic shifts of my task documentation; some of the most important developments have been in a personal discipline I’ve mustered through these experiences, to manage ALL THE THINGS, prioritize my own workflows and organize my life to more maximal productivity. Part of the elegance of the parallax metaphor in this case is in it’s homonymous “pa-relax,” which can maybe best reflect in a portmanteau that some of the most sustainable lessons are those that allow you to partner the extreme opportunities and impressive responsibilities, with an ability to manage expectations methodically, and support your collaborators without stress or burnout.

MerryTimes, a parallax project at the Holocenter, NYC

This requires some flexibility, some skill, some patience with constant change, some humble understanding of your own personal limitations and a healthy refusal to be stunted by them; these are qualities I’ve developed more thoroughly in recent months, and recognized pretty profoundly in my fellow fellows. They’re qualities that everyone should seek independent of their embrace of a parallax life model or map moving philosophy. If you want to do great things, develop professionally, collaborate actively, progress personally, and contribute productively to a global or even niche-local community, these are qualities you’ll probably invest time in developing. Why not do so with some support along the way?

Progressive and Open (Source) News

To that end, you should probably apply for a fellowship like mine, though your experience won’t be identical. An Open News fellowship is simultaneously the most flattering, exhausting, and exhilarating honor, and jobs after it will be hard to reconcile with the epicness of their precedent. My goals prior to the fellowship were pretty basic: code more in the open, Holocenter wall textlearn more about design patterns and backend development, develop sustainable architectural habits instead of one-off project drill behaviors. The scope of my current learning and side-project -> tech stack spread is pretty impressively expansive compared to my initial projections.Hologram Glasses at the Holocenter

testing the parallax art app in situSome of the more tacit benefits are nearly impossible to articulate without being gushy. It’s the stranger famery you’ll experience in the news community that clashes with your impulse to imposter syndrome; the kind where you’ll get requests to collaborate on projects from strangers instead of just your friends. Pre-fellowship, I never really had comments on my Github projects and my public code persona was pretty weak; 5 months in, I get regular email about blog posts I’ve written and repos I’ve open-sourced. I speak at conferences where people preface their questions to me with “I read/looked at your…”, instead of just “hey so I disagree and can prove I’m smart by asking an un-question.” (We’ve all witnessed these people; I witness them less now).

my beta-BRCK, ready to test!As an added perk, I get to work with people who develop technology solutions for under-tech-privileged parts of the world, places where access to the internet might require cell network fail-over solutions like BRCK, or where tracking citizen opinion via social media streams aggregated and API-ified in CrisisNET is so epically important because these opinions are routinely throttled by oppressive or inegalitarian agendas. I beta-test and help build the budding work that will change how we process open information and how we crowdsource commentary. I work with people who train journalists on the ground in nations where objective journalism can be unwelcome, and the practice of building a data journalism program is as-yet nascent or continuously undercover. I’ve had the opportunity to fuse collaborations with the brilliant trainers and journalists at Internews and the smart and savvy technologists at Ushahidi; and in this capacity, I work with and support people who develop new ways to provide critical perspective on sustainable sociology and global health programs, on geopolitics in the absence of privacy and in the face of human rights violations.

Ushahidi V3: Soon with more maps + graphs!

I think about this more and more in the context of how journalists have adapted to suit these demands, becoming multi-tasking reporters/technologists/domain-specialists/data-“scientists”/activists. A recent BrainPickings article about Achebe’s approach to writing as a vocation seemed to fit here too, where “writer” adopts all of these newfound technical roles while maintaining the same ethical mandates, explaining what Maria Popova so awesomely cited as the “redemptive power of fiction and Chinua Achebe’s perspective on optimism in lieu of ‘clickbait’ journalism”:

[My idealism is] still alive and well because without it the business of the writer would be meaningless. I don’t think the world needs to be told stories of despair; there is enough despair as it is without anyone adding to it. If we have any role at all, I think it’s the role of optimism, not blind or stupid optimism, but the kind which is meaningful, one that is rather close to that notion of the world which is not perfect, but which can be improved. In other words, we don’t just sit and hope that things will work out; we have a role to play to make that come about. That seems to me to be the reason for the existence of the writer.

My work is fulfilling, optimistic, open, and ever-(map)moving. Yours could/should/would be too.

MerryTimes, 2014

Don’t wait
August 16 is the deadline date!

(; I drop rhymes like this errryday 😉

Read all about it here | Apply here

Ping me for any questions here: aurelia[at]ushahidi.com

NYPL Labs also has a map-makers residency for interactive artists, if that’s more your bag

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538: Errors, Plotting Crises, and the Protocol of Re:Processing Data

There’s probably an HTTP error code for every situation; for this post, 538 seems to well-suit. It’s a Windows error that returns a dialog about ABIOS (Basic I/OSubsystems, indicating invalid entries and corrupted drivers. Despite their obscurity to most of us, these are actually common and analogous issues in developing data projects for journalism…corrupted, dated, or invalid info being problematic in both cases. This is a post about one of those cases.

ABIOS ERROR CODE

If you’ve been following journalistic tracking of the Nigeria kidnappings, then you might have come across 538, a collective of hackers and journalists who has been reporting on the topic and recently posted this set of maps using GDELT (Global Database of Events Language and Tone) data. This garnered a series of pretty solid rebuttals about integrity of their assertions; see @charlie_simpson’s Storify feed and Daniel Solomon on Source. The problem with the piece in question (to summarize the previous links), is that it provides time-series and mapped analysis of kidnapping in Nigeria but skews representation of the actual data plotted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As someone who works with journo orgs, crowdsourced crisis-mapping projects, data, and Africa I thought I’d comment on some of the fallibilities briefly. The particular fumbles I see in the 538 representation of kidnapping incidents in Nigeria can be bundled under three issues that are persistently problematic in all data journalism projects.

ISSUE 1: REPRESENTATIONAL INTEGRITY

A lot of issues with data mapping/graphing projects boil down to human representational error: what is your map actually showing and what are you saying it’s showing? In this case, the equivalence of GDELT media data and actual incident data is a superfail, but not only in the (mis)representation of the source used. The failure to buttress that representation with clear disclaimers and other data is also unfortunate, worth commenting on here. Quotes below taken from the 538 article in question.

Official kidnapping statistics for Nigeria aren’t available, and our numbers do provide a good relative picture; we can see where kidnappings in Nigeria are most prevalent.

This points to data paucity, which is fair, definitely a speedbump, but not entirely excusable. We’ve been spoiled perhaps by the assumption that everything should have a .csv download or an API endpoint, or that you can get all of the things from one aggregation feed, but some more context here would help.

The link in this quote, for example, should be bracketed in context, linking to a 404 (“aren’t available”) like this is unhelpful when you don’t know the query that led to it:40Fail.superlame.com

 

What about showing why/how your query was unsatisfactory? If you search in prognoz (the Nigerian Statistical Open Data Portal used the 538’s author to search) you do find data under “Public Order and Safety” as a data category, indicators (search terms) like “kidnapping” result in graphs from 2006 + .

Likewise, if a trend in one data set is notable, particularly a geographic density of “events” on the map, it’s worth looking at other data to supplement your assumptions.

One possible explanation is the region’s oil wealth, otherwise known as the curse of the black gold. The United Nations news service has also highlighted how oil extraction in the south of Nigeria has been accompanied by violence and criminality.”

If a relationship to oil by region is of interest, Prognoz has data for that (Macro-Economic Data > Petroleum), or maybe there’s another relationship to geography worth exploring: topography, environmental influences. Perhaps a comparative analysis with other mapping projects devoted to those data, like Oil Spill Monitor – Nigeria or flood tracking and standing water in the regions where 538 notes a density of kidnappings would be of comparative interest. Are there other geographic factors that might affect crises worth exploring?

There’s a value in layering data sets and comparisons across mainstream and social media, and the real value of journalism’s take on these data is the comparative perspective it can provide, recognizing the weaknesses between data sets and using them to crosscheck each other rather than only “normalizing” to control for error in one set. 

This is a somewhat crude calculation. We’re counting all geolocated kidnappings in the GDELT database since 1982 and dividing that by each state’s current population.

So, does that mean that the current population in a region was the denominator for that division across all decades (because at the time of this post, the population link provided in the post doesn’t load)? Where is the data? how can people access it, can I get a tooltip with counts and calcs in the timeseries (pretty sure cartodb supports this; I mean, really, man.)?

ISSUE 2: DATA BULLETPROOFING

This is the predominant criticism in both rebuttals, the refrain of all journo projects being a pretty neat alliterative philosophy: check, compare, contextualize.

Validate Your Data

As this has been well-covered by the other critics and is a pretty well-documented challenge in journalism (see: “verification by replication,” scientific method-style), I won’t belabor it here. Qualified outfits have written impressive how-tos (like this awesome one from ProPublica) though the process for bullet-proofing each piece is usually custom. There are also papers and projects like the Data Verification Handbook, and applications like Twittcred and Storyful aimed at affirming social media.

Early in this bullet-proofing process, it’s also helpful to take a look at comparative projects and use them to illustrate why your analysis is distinct, and how it contributes to a gap. Nigeria Security Tracker also has mapped violence and fatalities in a time series; Nigeria Watch provides a database of violence trends as well, and there are other authoritative and georeferenceable event data with downloadable datasets worth querying against to better verify GDELT.

ISSUE 3: SOCIAL OR SECONDARY MEDIA AS SOURCE

Lastly, and predictably, there are always hiccups when plotting social and secondary media accounts as events.

what GDELT *will* tell you

Analytics on postings and general media circulation can be valuable for viewing the conversation around a topic online, but they can also be speciously spun to represent the density of actual crises or activity in an area. Counting the tweets related to #nigeria isn’t entirely useful for modeling a threat without filters or ways to validate those postings. Even GDELT, in its ambitious programto provide the global research community with its first open global multi-decade quantitative database of human society” is still researching how to best verify social data.

Let’s look at a more general example mapping data. GDELT represents media activity around topics, like how google trends represents search activity on topics, but both can be confused with representing incidents. In the later case, examples of secondary source and interpretive fumble abound. 

Take Flu Trends:

 

or this Google Trends graph of a few JS libs one (note the rise of Angular JS in recent times):

Angular vs. all other JS

What these graphs illustrate is not an actual density of flu incidents or a spike in public interest in Angular JS but rather the number of searches related to incidents, and perhaps public confusion about Angular JS. People who have the flu might also go straight to the doctor and not google it; people who understand and appreciate Angular are perhaps unlikely to google for Stack Overflow. Media discussion or focus on a topic does not always/often equate with actual activity, though the two are sometimes conflated.

Just as there’s a tendency to consider a social media campaign as solely-sufficient involvement in a crisis situation, there’s a tendency to tap a feed aggregation or media API as an authoritative representation of actual events. The distinction between social and mainstream media fuzzes when mainstream relies on social or secondary media as data, a problem in the 538 case, as they provide analysis of an aggregation feed of secondary media accounts of events.

Often, social media is incredibly powerful for plotting the general conversation about a topic (I’m looking at you, Westgate twitter tracking). Some of the most positive reactions to this crisis have been piloted by social media (#BringBackOurGirls), whose impact can be limited practically, but potentially epic as an indictment of the the government and mainstream media are doing comparatively. There’s little that’s less shameful in our digital world then having your government and formal press upstaged by hipster hashtag advocacy. That’s not to say, certainly, that these campaigns aren’t subject to their own epic blunders of failed verification (see: #yikes).

But beyond press campaigns and historical analyses of population/kidnapping trends, projects that pull in crowdsourced data are pretty impressively valuable for soliciting first-person information and sparking citizen-driven initiatives; Reuters’ blog just covered a bunch of them as relevant to the plight of Nigeria’s current victims. Ushahidi, for example, uses crowdsourced first-person reports that have been subcategorized and mapped by the admins of each instances’ deploy. It’s not a perfect representation of conflict, and it certainly has its limitations, but it is a distributed 1st-person reporting mechanism that can track violence relative to a geographic location depending on how the instance is customized. Secondary processors of this information can add a layer of interpretive error that weakens the integrity of the sources, if by only failing to admit their fallibilities. There are several Ushahidi projects that track violence in Nigeria, with their own foci and categorization schema (distinguishing between “trusted”/”verified” reports and public feeds). Like Niger Delta Watch, or Extrajudicial Killings – Nigeria, or Stop the Bribes, all of which provide first person accounts of violence as mapped to regions in Nigeria.

No one is be perfect all of the time, or capable of pleasing all the people, certainly. GDELT is an imperfect source of most things beyond tracking media reaction, so it fails in this effort to echo its output back as event data (see Source). However, media reaction is still interesting for other analyses, hence the media reaction to these maps; the integrity of a news organization and its output of (even aggregated) content is still worth indexing.

EOD, the ethics of data journalism and best practices haven’t been adequately codified for these kinds of stories. At last year’s Highway Africa conference, Peter Horrock (BBC) talked about the best indices of quality media covering Africa being somewhere at the intersection of how an organization covers domestic events and how it covers its mistakes (see his full talk here). In this latter case, media reaction is important, if for a different reason. We’ll see how 538 reacts, and maybe learn something about how to manage future code-fumbles. I’m looking forward to more verification protocols: representational integrity, data bulletproofing, and secondary sourc-ery 😉  </ERROR>

* Thanks to J. Morgan. E. Constantaras, and  J. Rotich for contributing data, time, and thoughts to this post

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