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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
2 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: