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New digital map tracks attacks on journalists and bloggers

New digital map tracks attacks on journalists and bloggers

Jorge Luis Sierra | April 25, 2013

In Mexico, where more than 80 journalists have been killed since 2005, many assaults, beatings, threats, disappearances and abductions go unreported because victims and their families fear retribution.

We need a safe way to report these attacks and to show the effect of violence on freedom of expression in Mexico. That’s why Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) are launching a new map to track attacks against journalists, Twitter and Facebook users, bloggers and citizens who use social media to report crime and corruption.

I am coordinating the map, called “Periodistas en Riesgo” (“Journalists at Risk”) as part of my ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowship. In my previous fellowship with ICFJ, I developed Mi Panamá Transparente, a map tracking crime and corruption based on reports from citizens and journalists.

This new map is Latin America’s first digital crowdsourcing platform related to freedom of expression. Based on the open source platform called Crowdmap, which was developed by the group Ushahidi, the map allows users to send their reports anonymously, without using their name or real email address. All information that reaches the map is checked by an editor and reviewed for credibility and reliability.

Before they submit a report, users receive a recommendation to download the platform Tor or Orbot on their computers or mobile devices to allow anonymous browsing. If users are going to send a report via email, the project encourages them to use Hushmail services, which encode the content of electronic messages to make them more secure.

The map records incidents that have occurred since December 1, 2012, which marked the beginning of a new federal administration in Mexico. Already, the results are chilling. As of April 22, the map had already recorded 41 cases of assault on journalists and bloggers. The incidents include: two murders; one disappearance; five attacks with explosives and shootings of media offices; and three kidnappings. There were also incidents of verbal attack; theft; destruction of equipment; legal harassment; and theft of electronic files.

The map also shows information on severe cases of attacks on journalists from 2005 to 2012.

This map will be a useful tool for prevention and resource planning for media organizations and groups dedicated to protecting journalists. With accurate information on where attacks occur and who has been assaulted, these organizations can concentrate their resources on the areas that are most dangerous for journalists.

The tool will also be useful for citizens, who have begun to report on the violence occurring in their communities. Some of these citizens have reported threats against them that should be recorded and taken into account.

The map will be presented to the public April 25 during an Internet Freedom panel in Mexico City organized by Hacks/Hackers Mexico, Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists and Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (Center for Research and Teaching in Economics). More than 350 unique visitors from 20 countries have already viewed nearly 1,500 pages of reports on violence.

Jorge Luis Sierra is a Knight International Journalism Fellow developing digital tools for citizens and journalists to map crime and corruption. He focuses on digital and mobile security.

Image: screen grab of the Periodistas en Riesgo website.

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