Design to better authenticate citizen journalism

Citizen journalism has become more and more prominent in the era of social media, where sometimes news is being disseminated real-time on the spot through eyewitness reports before they even reach mainstream media.

And perhaps there is no better phrase than ‘the revolution will be tweeted’ to capture the critical role of citizen journalism in shaping up and recording history in our modern connected time.

“In 2011, I was in Egypt. I didn’t live very far from where the action was, Tahrir square. During the media blackout at that time, I saw how things and events that had happened weren’t reported in mainstream media. This was my first-hand experience of being an eyewitness and of seeing disparities in what each party was trying to frame the events as,” says Hoda Amal Hamouda, PhD researcher at UBC’s School of Information.

Combining archival science with citizen journalism

The year after the Arab Spring, Hamouda moved from Egypt to Canada with her family. Trained in user experience design via her master’s degree from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Hamouda is currently focusing on improving the process of authenticating citizen journalism videos by incorporating archival science after being inspired by citizen journalism in her home country.

Hoda Amal Hamouda believes that the future of citizen journalism is in preservation and verification. | Photo courtesy of UBC

An example of her work is an eyewitness visualization that offers an immersive experience to watch citizen journalists at work.

“With an eyewitness recording, there is this camera shakiness; it is very confusing if someone watches it on a static screen. So, my idea behind [this] is how do we use this special nature to make it a strength rather than a weakness?” Hamouda explains. “I thought what is missing is the bigger picture. What if we unfold all the locations in which the eyewitnesses move their cameras? What if I am standing in different locations from Tahrir Square; how would people experience it?”

She has also designed a related eyewitness platform, which is a proof of concept to synthesize different viewpoints in the same event with the help of technology.

“I think the future of citizen journalism is in preservation and verification. The sheer amount of content will continue to evolve, so the work is really about how to preserve them,” Hamouda says. “We also need to look from the lens of archival science to understand how we make them part of what the public can access. Countering fake content will also be a major issue.”

She further explains that the traditional way of verifying citizen journalism videos revolves around the date, location, resources and originals, and there are open-source tools to achieve that. But for remote areas that have weak technological infrastructures, it will be difficult for open-source verification to take place. That is where archival science can help.

“Archival science has a very analytical approach to looking at records,” says Hamouda. “We can look at the technological context. For example, in a remote country, if you can’t find the location of a video, it doesn’t mean the location doesn’t exist, it just means the context is negatively impacting the geolocation. We also need to take into consideration the juridical system where the video is captured. In some countries, citizen journalism is outlawed. In locations such as those, it is unfair to treat a video in the same way as you would treat it in Canada.”

Seeing her work as redesigning the process and the experience of citizen journalism verification, Hamouda hopes she can work with interested human rights organizations, which are usually the main instigators of the verification process.

“I am looking to do more interviews and fieldwork to better design this verification process,” she says.

Complementing mainstream media

Citing the history of citizen journalism that goes back to the 19th century, Hamouda believes citizen journalism acts as a complement to mainstream media and provides the public with a more holistic view of what is going on.

“Citizen journalism usually misses the narrative that mainstream journalism provides,” she says. “But I see it as an alternative, particularly where state media takes over the disseminating channels of information. It is also shedding light on things that mainstream media won’t necessarily cover. Sometimes through these snapshots, the public gets interested and then agencies will start covering the issue.”

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