When I worked at WITNESS, we debated hotly how to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008. We wanted to do something that felt contemporary, that felt open as a campaign, and that anyone – anyone – would have a response to and could run with. What we came up with, and what ended up catching the imagination of quite a few people, was a simple question:

What image opened your eyes to human rights?

To kick things off, I recorded a load of interviews with interesting activists, researchers, journalists and filmmakers when I was at the GFMD conference in Athens. I’ve just put  a playlist of these short, sometimes spine-tingling interviews onto YouTube. Here, as a taster, is Mary Robinson’s answer:


I’ve finally got around to posting my notes for a presentation I gave at a convening in May 2011 on Media, Social Media, and Democratic Governance at Wilton Park (here’s a PDF of the conference programme – and here’s some more about the history of Wilton Park). It was a few months before Cameras Everywhere was published, and it was a much-appreciated opportunity to explain some of the thinking behind the report, and to pull out some underlying themes as they related to the people at the convening: a mix of media development, intergovernmental, governmental, donors and citizen/social media specialists. You’ll find the main themes after the jump (and if you want to read the whole thing, and to find out why the internet is not a horse, go here): Read More

I’m somewhat belatedly posting my notes for a presentation I gave at a convening in May 2011 on Media, Social Media, and Democratic Governance at Wilton Park (here’s a PDF of the conference programme, and POLIS Director, Charlie Beckett’s notes from his presentation are here.).


“The Internet Is Not A Horse”: presentation at Wilton Park, May 2011

Over the past few months, I’ve been working with the human rights organisation WITNESS on a new initiative that aims to help those using video for human rights to do so more safely, more ethically and more effectively. As part of this initiative, we have produced a report [published in September 2011], called Cameras Everywhere, as WITNESS’ first toe in the waters of technology policy.

Why would an organisation that has focused on advocacy campaigns to expose and end specific human rights abuses suddenly decide to engage in the world of technology policy? Finding and sharing new ways to use new technologies for documenting and exposing violations remains a central part of what WITNESS does. But in the process of building and running human rights projects that involve technology, we have been forced to confront a range of extremely thorny technical, legal, editorial and ethical challenges woven through the evolving communication environment. And in conversations with technologists, say, we’d raise issues about ethics, and they’d say, “Well, we’d never thought about it that way.” And with policy-makers, “Ah, now I hadn’t really thought about the human rights impacts of copyright enforcement.” Or with NGO colleagues, “Well, we’d like to be more involved in debates about technology, but we don’t know where to start.”

We felt it important to share in an accessible way the lessons we have learned, and to try to stitch together a perspective for our partners, donors and fellow activists, for technologists building the tools we all use, and for policy-makers who set the laws and policies that govern these same technologies. Law and policy set and shape the parameters for what technology can do – indeed law is sometimes embedded within technology – and therefore what it is possible for activists (and citizens more broadly) to do, and what protections they can enjoy and exercise.

This report is based both on our own analysis and experience, and on more than 40 in-depth interviews with highly-placed experts from settings as diverse as academia, technology policy, grassroots activism and broadcast journalism. We hope that it will provide a springboard for further discussion and help bring these various stakeholders a few inches closer together in common understanding and dialogue. Read More

This year’s Newsfoo felt to me rather different from the 2010 edition. There seemed to be less discussion of how to sustain or resource news, or about the contexts of news consumption, and more about how to deal with some of the cognitive, knowledge-management and even ethical issues of news journalism. This post is on initiatives/tools for fact-checking and knowledge management in the news [Update: a more current list is here.]

Knowledge management, fact-checking in news organisations

After last year’s Newsfoo, I pondered whether “a key emerging role for news media and journalists might lie in more systematically tracking and unpacking the nature and web of connections, instances and influences that flow to and through and from events” – Bruno Latour’s Macospol is one example of how this might be done. Some human rights organisations are using new tools to collect and mine data, build and visualise patterns, and draw conclusions and present evidence (e.g. B’Tselem’s pretty jaw-dropping forensic collaboration with Situ Studio and Goldsmiths). What kinds of tools and methods are news organisations using to conduct this kind of work – establishing facts, establishing connections, and building a web of evidence that helps people decide what is happening around them?

Three Newsfoo discussions in particular prompted this post (alongside Baratunde‘s reminder to us all that The Onion has fact-checkers):
– Jonathan Stray asked first how news organisations could implement better knowledge management as they gather and process information – in a sense, a “context layer” for the web. As one person put it in another discussion, “the process of journalism is very lossy”, in that a lot of labour-intensive, useful information gathered in the process of doing journalism never gets used, or stored and made available to others to search or build on.
– Dan Schultz and Sasha Costanza-Chock talked about how to provide a “truth and credibility layer” for news consumers when they interact with journalism: how do you know if a statement reported online is true or not?
– a range of participants came together for a session specifically on fact-checking, looking in part of how Politifact works, and other initiatives (like this) enabling quite granular analysis of political and business discourse and reporting.

Also, a week before Newsfoo, Craig Newmark had posted on how he’s extremely dissatisfied with the state of fact-checking [UPDATE: and a new post from Craig Newmark at Nieman Lab continues to argue that fact-checking and -challenging is a critical part of how news organisations earn, retain and grow trust]. And a week ago, Ethan Zuckerman wrote helpfully about Morningside Analytics’ work on the US online fact-checking ecosystem, and Lucas Graves’ work on the landscape of fact-checking in the US. There’s a lot of discussion about the state of fact-checking generally at the moment, so I won’t retread the discussions had in these sessions at Newsfoo (not least since there was a fair amount of FrieNDA.)

So read on for a list of resources mentioned in these Newsfoo sessions, along with some others I’ve added to round things out a bit – I hope it’s of use. Most of these are US/UK only – who’s doing this in other parts of the world, in other languages? Thoughts? Additions? Let me know through the comments box!

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Following on from the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference last week, discussions looking at various aspects of the web and society are coming thick and fast. Here are two three four just this week:

Today/tomorrow in London it’s the UK Foreign Office’s London Conference on Cyberspace (programme) – which seems heavy on cybersecurity, anti-hacking, and cybercrime, but opened this morning with a long panel on internet freedom featuring, among others, one of my wife’s Article19 colleagues, Barbora Bukovska. I’ll be there on Wednesday, with a particular interest in the session on Safe and Reliable Access.

In Mexico City on Wednesday and Thursday, the Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners are meeting to discuss Privacy: the Global Age (programme PDF). I’m intrigued to see where this goes after following its previous iterations in Madrid and Jerusalem. Visual privacy still seems a little off the agenda, in particular – and with the rise in consumer-driven face-recognition, this seems like a massive missed opportunity. And interested to see also how Stephen Deadman of Vodafone approaches moderating his panel on Mobile Privacy in the light of widespread criticism of Vodafone earlier this year during the Egyptian revolution. Sadly I won’t be in Mexico City alongside another of my wife’s Article 19 colleagues, Dave Banisar (see his global RTI law map) sampling the chapulines… The Public Voice held a related civil society meeting yesterday, and the OECD is holding one on privacy frameworks today.

And then, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it’s London’s turn again for the Mozilla Festival. This promises a totally different tone and approach to the previous two – focused more on the possibilities of openness, collaboration, innovation – and should be fascinating. (No time to go to this either, however…) Lots of very interesting people there (more here), and here’s what they’re talking about.

[ADDED] Also NewsXchange is happening in Portugal right now. Always worth following along to get a sense of what is happening across news industries around the world.

(I’ll post up relevant summaries, video etc if and when these appear.)