Crowdsourcing Serengeti Photos

“After Ali Swanson, an ecology researcher from the University of Minnesota, set up 225 cameras over 400 square miles of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, she was hit by the curse of Big Data: how do you make sense of the head-spinning contents of more than a million photographs?” (Daily Beast)

To identify so many photos, the researchers decided to enlist the aid of the public.  Anyone could register at the Snapshot Serengeti Project and begin identifying the animals and birds in the photos.  Multiple identifications of each photo help ensure accuracy, although the researchers also check things over.  The project, which began in December of 1012 was so popular that by the following February two years of photos were already classified.  The project is now engaged in uploading more photos for the public to identify.

The Serengeti Project is part of a larger University of Minnesota Lion Project which  “has been studying African lions in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area since the 1960’s. At any given time, our field teams keep track of about 330 lions in 24 prides in the Serengeti, and 50–60 lions in 5 prides on the floor of Ngorongoro Crater. . . over 5,000 lions have been included in the Serengeti and Crater studies over the past 40+ years.”  (SnapshotSerengeti)  To learn more about the findings from this lion research, read the blog written at the Snapshot Serengeti web site.

The Snapshot Serengeti Lion Project is one of many crowdsourcing projects located at Zooniverse where the public can assist in such projects as transcribing weather data from Royal Navy WW1 era ships (OldWeather) to searching for planets (Planet Hunters).

Other popular crowdsourcing projects include:

  •  Transcribe Bentham, the University College London’s efforts to digitize all the unpublished manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham
  • Project organized by the New York Public Library to transcribe and digitize more than 40,000 old menus
  • The U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Phrenology Program which asks the public to transcribe note cards recording bird migration observations
  • The Sixties Project which encourages members of the 60’s generation to contribute their own personal narratives.  The project also includes online exhibits, links to primary documents, and the online journal  Vietnam Generation.

Beware Facebook

Great comic illustrating how modern technology can by misused/abused by our corporate elites.

Thanks to Adeline Koh of the Postcolonial Digital Humanities project where she adds this note to her cartoon:

Why the world needs humanists involved in creating and using technology. This bitstrip was inspired by this news story on Facebook users revealing private data through “likes” on the Guardian (HT Brian Jara)

Mobilizing against Online Hate Speech

One of the more creative approaches to addressing online hate speech is the Umati project in Kenya which is dedicated to monitoring online hate speech, educating about how online hate speech can promote violence, and identifying ways that individuals and non-governmental organizations can combat hate speech.

The Umati project is one of many initiatives organized in response to the horrific inter-ethnic violence – over 1,000 killed –  following the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya.  (Another initiative is a series of “Healing and Rebuilding our Communities” workshops organized by Kenyan Quakers and others.)

Findings:  The results of Umati’s monitoring of Kenyan cyberspace (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and online newspapers and video streams of the major Kenyan media)  for the Oct. 2012 through Jan. 2013 period contained several surprises (to me anyway):

  • About 90% of the examples of dangerous speech found by Umati were made by individuals who identified themselves (as opposed to anonymous commenters).
  • Analyzing the actions promoted by hate speakers, calls to discriminate against some group were the most common – over 5 times as frequent as calls to kill (the second most common).  Less frequently advocated actions included calls to forcefully evict, to beat up, to riot, or to loot.
  • Calls to take violent action were far more prevalent on Facebook than on other online venues – almost 400 instances in the 4 month period covered compared to less than 50 in comments to an online news article.

What struck me most about the Umati project was the way its report explained the different kinds of hate speech (giving examples) and how each could contribute to the growth of intolerance and violence.


The final section of Umati’s report focuses on  actions that individuals and organizations can take to reduce or counteract hate speech.  One of the useful tactics suggested is the immediate dissemination of facts to correct a rumor or falsehood likely to inflame the audience to violence.

“Such responsible online activity was exemplified during the Mombasa violence that followed the death of Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo, when inflammatory tweets were being spread that stated that a Mombasa church was being burned. A responsible social media user took a tweetpic of the church (which was not burning) and stated, “Stop the lies!”. This responsible action helped to quell the propagation of such inflammatory lies on social media.”

The overall context of the Umati project – based on Susan Benesch’s concept of dangerous speech – unites action and speech in a useful manner.

“Dangerous speech: This is a term coined by Professor Susan Benesch to describe incitement to collective violence that has a reasonable chance of succeeding, in other words speech that may help to catalyse violence, due to its content and also the context in which it is made or disseminated. This possibility can be gauged by studying five criteria that may contribute to the dangerousness of speech in context: the speaker (and his/her degree of influence over the audience most likely to react, the audience (and its susceptibility to inflammatory speech), the speech act itself, the historical and social context, and the means of dissemination (which may give greater influence or “force” to the speech).”

The project divides dangerous speech into three distinct categories, providing a framework for distinguishing between immediate threats of violence and comments which might be less likely to be recognized as dangerous by the speaker or the audience.  This framework implicitly recognizes that different educational activities and action strategies may be needed to address each type of dangerous speech.

The categories of dangerous speech addressed by Umati are:

  • Offensive speech:  comments mostly intended to insult a particular group
  • Moderately dangerous speech: “moderately inflammatory and are usually made by speakers with little to moderate influence over their audience.”
  • Extremely dangerous speech: “made by speakers with a moderate to high influence over the crowd, are extremely inflammatory” and are likely to include calls to violent action.

Source: “Monitoring Online Dangerous Speech: October 2012 – January 2013

For the results of a different online monitoring project in the Ukraine, see the 2012 Council of Europe’s report “Mapping Study of Projects against Hate Speech Online”  (pp. 30-31)

Video: Reconciliation in Kenya

The film below documents one project aimed at building reconciliation after inter-ethnic violence following the 2007 election in Kenya. Kenyan Patrick Mureithi made this documentary about the “Healing and Rebuilding our Communities” workshops held in a slum area of Nairobi which experienced some of the worst violence of 2008. This moving film lets us share the emotions of both victims and perpetrators as they struggle to come to terms with what happened and how they can build a more peaceful future. Be sure to click the “Show More” button at YouTube to read the full press release about the film and its remarkable director.

BACKGROUND: As Kenyans get ready to vote tomorrow (Monday, March 4, 2013) in elections for President and Parliament, we all hope that the violence following the 2007 elections will not be repeated. That election featured 2 presidential candidates, each representing a different, but large tribe. When the results were announced, the loser claimed that the voting was rigged. Supporters of each candidate took to the streets in mass demonstrations which turned violent with people wielding machetes and burning down villages. Over 1,000 were killed and half a million rendered homeless.

The horrors of this post election conflict led to many reconciliation initiatives and projects to prevent a recurrence including the Alternatives to Violence Project Kenya (illustrated in this film) – a Quaker initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. Other projects include Uchaguzi to aggregate & map citizen reports of election violations.

For more info, see “Kenyan Patrick Mureithi Hopes New Film Will Deter Violence After Elections” by Paul Nolan, Wall Africa, Feb. 28, 2013.  The article also describes the no-cost Faster EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) for relieving anxiety. This no-cost technique of tapping on certain pressure points on the body is a boon in a country with few psychiatrists and little access to mental health services.

Kenya: Crowdsource mapping of election problems

The Uchaguzi project is preparing for tomorrow’s Kenyan elections by enabling citizens around the country to instantly report any instances they see of voter intimidation, election violence, ballot stuffing or other irregularities. Reports will be aggregated and displayed in map form on the Web for all to see as well as forwarded to gov’t agencies and NGO’s for action. The public will be able to send reports via text messages (cell phones are the most popular and cheapest method of telecommunication in Africa), email, Twitter and Facebook. See the map showing incidents to date and access a sample report form at

The Uchaguzi project is an outgrowth of the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform, developed by Ory Okolloh & others during the 2008 post election violence (over 1,000 killed) to keep track of killings, house burnings, etc. Since then the Ushahidi software has been used by human rights activists around the world – in Haiti after the earthquake to collect details of emergency needs, in Syria to give women a platform to submit reports of sexual violence, in Egypt to track over 2,000 incidents of corruption, and in Canada to collect & map reports of the numerous (often unsolved) murders of indigenous women. Too often the technical contributions of Africans are overlooked, and the developers of Ushahidi deserve more recognition than they have received.

Read more about Ushahidi and one of its founders, Ory Okolloh, in this 2011 article in the UK’s  Guardian newspaper or visit Ushahidi’s website.

European Politicians Act Differently from U.S. Counterparts

Gov’t official admits mistake. The Slovenian Ambassador  to Japan, Helena Drnovsek Zorko, publicly apologized for signing the ACTA treaty (European stop online piracy treaty which endangers freedom on the Internet). She said she made a gross mistake in signing (on her government’s orders) without reading carefully and failed her civic duty by signing this limitation on citizens’ freedom of expression. She urged people to participate in the upcoming demonstrations against ACTA.

Duty to read progressive web sites.  “I took a break from Avaaz,” she said to explain her ignorance in signing ACTA, referring to the progressive citizen action website AVAAZ which publishes informative articles about current events and organizes petitions to promote social justice.  How many U.S officials consider such non-mainstream, grassroots organized media like, Democracy Now, Avaaz, etc. as reliable sources and required reading?

Source: “Full Text Of Slovenian Ambassador’s Apology For Signing ACTA” from, Feb. 2, 2012

Note:  ACTA was finally defeated.

ACTA Treaty threatens Internet Use

Will people’s ability to use the Internet to mobilize against unjust actions (Komen cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood, the Arab Spring, etc.) be curtailed by so-called anti-piracy legislation like SOPA in U.S. and ACTA in Europe? The official ACTA rapporteur for the European Parliament resigned saying “I denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process which has led to the signature of this agreement: failure to address civil society, lack of transparency…”

Source:, Jan. 26, 2012