New Data and the Importance of Collaboration

New data streams have revolutionized every industry.  It’s no different for human rights.  No different, also, is learning to understand how these work to leverage them for the greater good.  That’s what Amnesty’s Alt-Click project is about.  How do we take the great opportunities out there – micro tasking, social media streams, large databases – and use them to help achieve the mission of Amnesty International.

One of the ways we’re doing that at the Citizen Evidence Lab is by setting up our Digital Verification Corps.  It’s a big challenge – we’ll be working with Amnesty volunteers to find content in social media streams and to verify videos and photographs to help Amnesty researchers monitor and report on human rights violations.  Thinking about all of this while listening to other organizations share their own experiences of different data streams was so important  That’s why we’ll also be using this platform – www.citizenevidence.org – to share our experiences as we build the Digital Verification Corps over the next few months.  We’ll write about our successes, our failures, content we have been able to verify, content we’ve debunked in the hope that this can help other organizations with their own challenges around how to use social media data streams.  

This project will require a lot of collaboration from Amnesty’s staff and volunteers.  But there is so much to learn, so much that changes, so many new tools that appear each month that keeping up is hard.  That’s where the other side of collaboration comes in – working with organizations that could be seen to be competing in some way to leverage these new tools for everyone’s greater good.

That’s why some of Amnesty’s Alt-Click team and Citizen Evidence Lab joined a writing retreat in Germany in May with several other organizations working with new data streams in the human rights sphere. It was a week to share learnings, share knowledge, share failures all in the goal of writing a text that can help other non-governmental organizations working with similar challenges. The final text will be published by The Engine Room in August. It’s also been out for consultation across the community

But before its publication, here are some thoughts on the advantages and rewards of sharing knowledge in this new space.

  1. The reward of collaboration.  In reality, while organizations think they are competing, there’s not much of it going on.  Each organization has its own angle, its own objectives, its own niches. All of this varies.  Therefore, by collaborating on issues such as how to tackle the issues around modern data streams we all work towards achieving our goals. It’s much better to share learning and share knowledge.
  2. Using data means different things to different people and to different organizations.  Data isn’t just  spreadsheets and statistics.  Data isn’t just digital content.  And questions about data vary too. There are questions of usage. There are also questions of protection. There are questions of ethics.  Tackling all of this is tricky – and likely beyond the remit of any one single organization.  Working together to understand all of this is important now – an importance which is only going to get bigger as more streams, more challenges, more opportunities spring forth.
  3. Platform agnosticism.  We have a tendency to think about how YouTube changed social media or Tableau changed data visualization and recommending how others may use those tools.  That’s useful.  But more useful and important is thinking about processes and workflows needed to achieve data visualization or tracking down social media content.  We need to understand these processes as new, better tools are appearing all the time – but often the processes remain the same.
  4. When we talk about collaboration, it’s also about understanding the limits of what can be achieved before jumping in headfirst. Surely better to discuss with organizations that have done the same and learned the lessons than to blindly explore?
  5. How it fits into traditional research and work.  It’s also important to talk about how people have worked on using new data streams within their traditional work.  New data is not a panacea, but it becomes very, very useful when integrated into more traditional investigation, research and reporting.  Understanding how other organizations have done this can help you understand how to leverage the opportunities these new tools to better effect.

Job: Verification Corps Community Manager

Open source research and verification is becoming an increasingly important aspect of research, including for human rights groups. At Amnesty International, we have always relied on the amazing work of volunteers, something that will only expand in the digital age. Over the last couple of years, we had a small group of volunteers to help us with verification of social media content. Now we want to take this project to the next level and are hiring a part-time consultant to build up and manage this community. If you have experience with building active and resilient (online) networks and communities, and have an interest in digital verification work, this job is for you.

The Citizen Evidence Lab Verification Corps is a volunteer network of students, young professionals and other supporters that assist in the discovery and verification of open source content. The aim of the project is to support Amnesty International’s research function by creating a network of volunteers who can triage and validate images and videos of potential human rights abuses.

Download full consultancy description (pdf)

Analytical Framework For Citizen Media Research and Verification

In addition to working almost daily with citizen media and other open source content, I also give regular trainings for human rights researchers and journalists. Unfortunately, not too many training resources exist in this regard, especially materials that are tailored to human rights practitioners. An additional challenge is that many resources—including on this site—focus on specific tools, which tend to become outdated very quickly considering how fast this field is developing.

I thought it would thus be important to create a more in-depth resource for practitioners and students who want to become proficient in human rights research in the digital age. Most importantly, the time is ripe for a tool-independent analytical framework to analyze and verify citizen media, which I hope will help integrating citizen media into traditional human rights documentation. Continue reading Analytical Framework For Citizen Media Research and Verification

What’s in Store for the Citizen Evidence Lab in 2016?

A sincere thank you to the close to 50,000 readers who have visited our site since we launched in mid-2014. I hope you enjoyed our content, and I am trying to make an increased effort in 2016 to post more content after a pretty slow 2015. In my first posting of 2016, I wanted to give a short sneak preview of what I am planning this year:

  • Guest contributions: I strive to invite experts in this field to make regular contributions, and we are off to a good start with our recent guest post by Sam Dubberley on the important topic of secondary trauma.
  • In-depth content and papers: This month, I am going to publish—in partnership with Cambridge University’s Centre for Governance & Human Rights—a working paper on open source research and verification for human rights practitioners. Also planned are short guides on advanced social media research, and on using geospatial data for verification work.
  • Case studies: At Amnesty International, we work with citizen media on a weekly basis, and I’ll make an effort to share not only our output, but also how we review content and what we learn. A recent example of our verification work is our briefing on Russian airstrikes in Syria, for which we extensively reviewed citizen media and other open source content
  • Image verification: I worked increasingly with photographs over the last 12 months. There is a lot to share, so I am planning to provide more content on image verification, which so far has been missing from the site. This will include tips on EXIF analysis and review of other data related to photographs.
  • Volunteers: I also plan to increasingly work with volunteers, building on our Citizen Media Evidence Partnership pilot project.

Feel free to provide feedback in the comments sections, and let us know if you see any important gaps in the verification field that we might be able to address.

Protecting yourself from trauma on the digital frontline

Editors note: Guest contribution by Sam Dubberley from the Eyewitness Media Hub about their new study on the risk of secondary trauma when working with citizen media. The study is based on an online survey of 209 professionals in the journalism, human rights and humanitarian field, in addition to 38 in-depth interviews and a review of relevant literature. 

I work on the Digital Frontline – how should I protect myself from the traumatic content I’m seeing?

We at Eyewitness Media Hub have just completed a research project entitled Making Secondary Trauma a Primary Issue: A Study of Eyewitness Media and Vicarious Trauma on the Digital Frontline. In this research, we report on how human rights organizations and their managers need to start taking the issue of vicarious trauma seriously when asking researchers and investigators at headquarters to use eyewitness media or user-generated content (eyewitness media or UGC refers to photographs or videos captured by people around the world on their smartphones and used by, for example, human rights, humanitarian or news organizations) to investigate potential human rights violations.  Our research shows that human rights organizations are failing in their duty of care to professionals working with this content, and that these professionals are scared about admitting to their managers that they are having a hard time dealing with some of the more distressing images they are seeing day in day out. Continue reading Protecting yourself from trauma on the digital frontline

ANNOUNCING WITNESS’ ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR USING EYEWITNESS FOOTAGE IN HUMAN RIGHTS

Big shout out to our colleagues from WITNESS, who just released an important new resource  on using eyewitness videos in human rights reporting and advocacy in an ethical way. I consider this a highly relevant resource for everyone working with citizen media. This posting by Madeleine Bair was originally published by the WITNESS Media Lab.

In June of 2009, the image of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death on the street in Tehran was caught on video and shared on YouTube, news media, and Twitter, became a striking symbol of Iran’s Green Revolution, and an ethical predicament for millions of viewers who never knew her: What did it mean to witness the last moments of this young woman’s life?

Six years later, we are still wrestling with that question and many others surrounding the ethics of sharing online videos of injustice and abuse. The amount of bystander footage shared online has skyrocketed, becoming a critical aspect of news and human rights reporting. And yet it seems like every day we are faced with a new dilemma concerning the ethics of watching and sharing footage that is often intimate, horrific, or decontextualized.

Does sharing videos by extremist organizations aid their goals of provoking fear and glamorizing violence, or is it a necessary part of news gathering? Should eyewitnesses be asked permission before their videos are broadcast by news media, or would that hinder the reporting process? How can investigators and advocates report on abuse caught on camera without violating the privacy or impacting the security of those seen on video?

For newsrooms, crisis responders, and human rights investigators, traditional protocols and guidelines have not kept up with these new challenges. While codes of ethics instruct us to do no harm, there is little by way of guidance to apply that principle when working with videos that we ourselves did not produce—footage filmed by bystanders, activists, victims, survivors, and sometimes perpetrators of abuse. Read full article

Making Secondary Trauma a Primary Issue

By Sam Dubberley – First posted by Eyewitness Media Hub

Eyewitness Media Hub is embarking on a cross-industry study into the impact of traumatic footage — and we need your help

Eyewitness Media Hub, with the support of the Open Society Foundation, is conducting a cross-industry study into the impact of vicarious trauma on journalists, human rights investigators and humanitarian aid workers who frequently search for eyewitness media in their work. Sam Dubberley — who makes up the research team along with Pete Brown — explains why this is so important and what the study aims to achieve.

It was in September 2004 that I had my first experience of what turned out to be vicarious trauma. It was the height of the insurgency in Iraq following the invasion that had toppled Saddam Hussein over a year earlier. I had colleagues in Baghdad. I, on the other hand, was sitting in a newsroom in Geneva. On September 20th, Eugene Armstrong, an American engineer, was beheaded. The main television news agencies discovered and distributed the video showing his murder. For reasons that I do not understand to this day, I was the one who volunteered in my Geneva office to watch it. Bravado? An attempt to prove myself? Career advancement? Aged 27, it was probably a bit of all of those. One thing I know for sure, though, is that whatever compelled me to watch the video of the death of Eugene Armstrong on a rainy, late summer afternoon in Geneva, I wish to this day that I hadn’t. Read full article

Turning Citizen Media Into Citizen Evidence: Authentication Techniques For Human Rights Researchers

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