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Syria Tracker: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information
 

Syria Tracker: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information

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Syrian activists, Arab and international human rights organizations and journalists have been collecting information to document crimes committed by the Syrian security forces against Syrian citizens. ...

Syrian activists, Arab and international human rights organizations and journalists have been collecting information to document crimes committed by the Syrian security forces against Syrian citizens. YouTube videos, reports by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), demanded of the United Nations (UN), interview transcripts, and news reports: all such sources of information exist independently, left unorganized and thus unable to make an optimal impact on advocacy for an international response to the crisis in Syria. This website, Syria Tracker, was developed to leverage information that is produced by citizen reporters and in collaboration with a variety of entities and made publicly available in disparate locations to produce a free centralized source of information. Hereinafter, we refer to this method of harnessing labor and information contributed by a large group of people as opposed to an employee or an expert contractor as crowdsourcing.

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    Syria Tracker: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information Syria Tracker: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information Document Transcript

    • Syria Tracker: Crowdsourcing Crisis InformationSouraya Tafrah 1, Leila Samy, MPH 1, Jeanne B. Kamali 2, Patrick Meier PhD 2,3, DavidScales MD, PhD 4,5,6, Clark C. Freifeld, MS 4,5,6, John S. Brownstein, PhD 4,5,6,7, and DavidKaye, JD 81 Syria Tracker, United States of America2 International Network of Crisis Mappers3 Ushahidi, Nairobi, Kenya4 Childrens Hospital Informatics Program at Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Division ofHealth Sciences and Technology, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America5 Division of Emergency Medicine, Childrens Hospital Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, United States ofAmerica6 HealthMap, United States of America7 Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America8 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, United States of AmericaJanuary 5, 2012Background: Syrian activists, Arab and international human rights organizations and journalistshave been collecting information to document crimes committed by the Syrian security forcesagainst Syrian citizens. YouTube videos, reports by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO),demanded of the United Nations (UN), interview transcripts, and news reports: all such sourcesof information exist independently, left unorganized and thus unable to make an optimal impacton advocacy for an international response to the crisis in Syria. This website, Syria Tracker, wasdeveloped to leverage information that is produced by citizen reporters and in collaboration witha variety of entities and made publicly available in disparate locations to produce a freecentralized source of information. Hereinafter, we refer to this method of harnessing labor andinformation contributed by a large group of people as opposed to an employee or an expertcontractor as crowdsourcing.Ushahidi: The near-ubiquity of cell phones worldwide and enhanced access to the Internet overthe past few years indicates that the world can hear about and respond to reports of eventstaking place, even inside repressive regimes. This activity and reactivity may occur in near real-time. Individuals around the world can access volumes of data made easily digestible to adiverse audience through live maps and other visualization techniques. Ushahidi, a small, non-profit technology company based in Kenya provides free and open source software as aplatform through which one can leverage crowdsourced reports to generate live maps. At thebleeding edge of new practices deploying live maps in conflict and crisis situations, Ushahidifirst launched its platform in 2008, which was used (in combination with Short Message Service(SMS)) to document rising human rights violations and post-election violence in Kenya. In2010, Ushahidi released Crowdmap, a public implementation of the Ushahidi platform hosted inthe Internet cloud. Anyone can construct a basic Crowdmap within minutes, centered upon thelocation and extent of one’s choice, and generated with relevant, user-defined categories thatbest fit the context. Subsequently, interested users around the world have generated thousandsof individual Crowdmaps tracking events or relief needed; such as tracking: oil spills, electionintimidation, corruption, tornados, power outages, civil wars, and food and water requests afteran earthquake.
    • The web-based Crowdmap allows users to crowdsource information from multiple channels,such as email, Twitter, YouTube videos, online news, syndicated feeds (such as Really SimpleSyndication (or RSS)), webform, or mobile apps, among others. The Standby Task Force(SBTF) (http://blog.standbytaskforce.com), an online volunteer community established at thesecond annual International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM)(http://www.CrisisMappers.net) in October, 2010, was activated in April 2011 for 2 weeks to helpSyria Tracker cope with the initial surge of crisis events from Syria.Methodology: Using Ushahidi’s Crowdmap product, we developed Syria Tracker [See Figure 1:http://syriatracker.crowdmap.com] to be a crowdsourced effort where citizen reporters on theground or abroad are reporting crimes in Syria either via direct web entry [See Figure 2], bysending reports via email to syriatracker@gmail.com, by tagging their tweets with#basharcrimes, or by leaving a voice message to US-based number “+1 931 682 6708”.Additionally, at the beginning of the effort Syria Tracker adopted a Speak2Tweet service(http://twitter.com/speak2tweet) that was developed by Google in light of the January 25 eventsin Egypt. The service accepted voice messages from Syria to either “+16 50 4194 196” or “+3906 62207 294” or “+44 20 3318 4514” and automatically posted the recorded messages totwitter with hashtag #Syria.Syria Tracker also incorporates complementary situation awareness information (news, blogs,Facebook posts, etc.) from the HealthMap system [1-3], hereinafter referred to as “HealthMapCrisis”. HealthMap is an information system that tracks disease outbreaks using unofficialreports (e.g., informal interviews of clinicians, web-based health-related articles by news media,amateur blogs). HealthMap Crisis was tailored to mine information in English for evidence ofcrises (e.g., killing, torture, detainment). HealthMap Crisis is provided as a news stream that isavailable to the public on the Syria Tracker’s website. Syria Tracker is collaborating with thefollowing crowdsourced efforts to further validate and disseminate the information: Middle EastVoices (Voice of America http://middleeastvoices.com/map-of-deaths-in-syrian-uprising-beta),Syrian Martyrs ‫( شهداء الثورة السورية‬http://syrianshuhada.com), Silmya (http://silmya.org), and SyrianYouth Movement (http://mar15.info).
    • Figure 1: Syria Tracker
    • Figure 2: Submission via the WebSyria Tracker provides a “voting” capability for eyewitness reports so that any ones with lowconfidence levels can be identified by the community. Names of victims have been collected asfrequently as possible to reduce the chance of duplicate reports and to support the UN HumanRights Council recommendations for documenting the crimes for future investigation.Results: Syria Tracker was launched on April 23, 2011 and, as of January 9, 2012, has beenable to log aggregate or individual reports since March 18, 2011, including 550 reports for thecategory “Killed (‫ ”)قت(ل‬and 356 reports for the category “Missing-‫ مفقود‬or Detained-‫ .”متعتق(ل‬A total of ِ‫ُ (ل‬ ُ6,317 individuals killed [See Figure 3] over 286 days (March 18, 2011 thru January 8, 2012)were documented and verified. Killing ranged from 1-210 killings per day (median of 17.5 (95%CI:14-19)), in 463 cities [See Table 1], affecting all age groups (median age of 36 years old(95% CI: 27-45)) with 427 individuals (~7%) less than or equal to 18 years old [See Figure 4],and 289 individuals were female (~5%) and 6,028 were male (~95%).Depending on the levels of violence in Syria, the typical amount of time for an eyewitness reportis 1-3 days, and aggregate reports are developed once a week. More than 88% of the current6,317 entries in the Syria Tracker database through Jan 9, 2012 have names associated withthem, although in some of the more violent periods counts were located to sub-portions of thecity and dates to reduce the chance of duplicate reports.Change Point Analysis (or CPA) [4] identified the following significant changes in the time series[See Figure 3]: 74 individuals killed on 4/8/2011, 57 individuals killed on April 22, 2011, 162individuals killed on April 29, 2011, 65 individuals killed on May 1, 2011, 33 individuals killed onJune 2, 2011,86 individuals killed on June 3, 2011, 56 individuals killed on 6/5/2011, 210individuals killed on 6/10/2011, 140 individuals killed on July 31, 2011, 144 individuals killed on
    • August 7, 2011, 74 individuals killed on October 28, 2011, 122 individuals killed on December19, 2011, and 146 individuals killed on December 20, 2011. As of January 8, 2012, a total of407 killings have been documented since the Arab League observers began arriving in Syria onDecember 26, 2011 to check on implementation of an Arab peace plan.
    • Figure 3: Total Number Killed in Syria Per Day, Mar 18, 2011 - Jan 8, 2012, Source: SyriaTracker
    • Table 1: Top 20 Cities with Most Documented Killings, Source: Syria TrackerCity CountEnglish ArabicHamah ‫حماة‬ 421Hims ‫حمص‬ 274Baba Amr, Hims ‫بابا عمرو، حمص‬ 271Daraa ‫درعا‬ 258Ar Rastan, Hims ‫الرستن، حمص‬ 250Jisr Ash-Shughur, Idlib ‫جسر الشغور، إدلب‬ 232Dayr az-Zawr ‫دير الزور‬ 197Al Khaldeeye, Hims ‫الخالدية، حمص‬ 166Al Hawleh, Hims ‫الحولة‬ 138Al Bayada, Hims ‫البياضة، حمص‬ 137Al Qusayr, Hims ‫القصير، حمص‬ 132Duma, Damascus Suburbs ‫دوما، ريف دمشق‬ 117Dayr Baalaba, Hims ‫دير بتعلبة، حمص‬ 104Kafr Owayd, Idlib ‫كفرعويد، إدلب‬ 103Karam el-Zeitoun, Hims ‫كرم الزيتون، حمص‬ 102Bab Alsebaa, Hims ‫باب سباع، حمص‬ 99Talbisah, Hims ‫تلبيسة، حمص‬ 90Kansafra, Idlib ‫كنصفرة، إدلب‬ 88Latakia ‫اللقذقية‬ 84Talkalakh, Hims ‫تلكلخ، حمص‬ 84
    • Figure 4: Syria Tracker: Age Distribution for Individuals Killed in Syria, Mar 18, 2011 thru Jan 8,2012, Source: Syria TrackerReports in Syria Tracker were translated, georeferenced, coded and verified against othersources or online posts [See Table 2].
    • Table 2: Validation Sources Used to Validate Reports in Syria TrackerValidation Source (English Translation) Validation Source (Arabic) Validated ReportsMartyrs on Facebook ‫شهداء على فيسبوك‬ 2447Martyrs from the beginning of the revolution ‫شهداء منذ بداية الثورة‬ 931Facebook ‫فيسبوك‬ 869Commission ‫اللجنة‬ 559The commission and On Islam ‫اللجنة وعن السلم‬ 541On Islam ‫عن السلم‬ 231The Syrian Revolution ‫الثورة السورية‬ 230The Nation ‫الوطن‬ 167Local coordination committees ‫لجان التنسيق المحلية‬ 78Email (‫البريد اللكتروني )إيمي(ل‬ 66Aljazeera ‫الجزيرة‬ 65Friends of Humanity International ‫أصدقاء النسان الدولية‬ 50The committee and Facebook ‫اللجنة وفيسبوك‬ 13Orient (‫الشرق )أورينت‬ 11YouTube ‫اليوتوب‬ 12Martyrs on Facebook and Email ‫شهداء على فيسبوك و البريد اللكتروني‬ 9Syrian Rights ‫الحقوق السورية‬ 8Baba Amr martyrs on Facebook ‫شهداء بابا عمرعلى فيسبوك‬ 6The committee and Rights ‫اللجنة والحقوق‬ 4Freedom martyrs on Facebook ‫شهداء الحرية فيس بوك‬ 4The commission and On Islam and email ‫اللجنة وعن السلم و البريد اللكتروني‬ 3Facebook and Email ‫فيسبوك و البريد اللكتروني‬ 3The committee and Email ‫اللجنة و البريد اللكتروني‬ 2The committee and Facebook and Rights ‫اللجنة وفيسبوك والحقوق‬ 2Facebook committees ‫لجان الفيسبوك‬ 2The committee and Facebook and Email ‫اللجنة وفيسبوك و البريد اللكتروني‬ 1Barada ‫بردى‬ 1Martyrs from the beginning of the revolution and ‫شهداء منذ بداية الثورة و شهداء على فيسبوك‬ 1Martyrs on FacebookMartyrs on Facebook and Email ‫فيسبوك شهداء و البريد اللكتروني‬ 1
    • As of December 12, 2011, Syria Tracker had received visits from 1,071 cities (with the top threebeing: Damascus Syria, Washington DC, and Riyadh Saudi Arabia) in 114 countries (~91% ofthe visits from Syria were new visits). Approximately, 30% of the traffic to Syria Tracker wasindirect. For example, search engine results link to Syria Tracker for inquiries into specificevents or searches for loved ones that are missing or killed; and, ~65% direct or referral trafficfrom other news outlets, social networking sites, or humanitarian websites (Voice of America,Amnesty International, Major News Agencies, etc).HealthMap endeavored to draw information from the widest range of media sources [See Table3 and Figure 5] possible to reduce any potential reporting biases from news media with certainpolitical slants. From June 13, 2011, when HealthMap began providing meaningful data forSyria Tracker, to January 8, 2012, over 43,000 news and blog articles were collected, drawingfrom almost 2,000 unique sources writing in English across the globe. More than half of thesources contributed four or more reports to the database [See Figure 5]. Sky News, Press TVand the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) were excluded from data collection from June 30,2011, though other pro-regime news sources remained.
    • Figure 5: Top 100 sources of HealthMap alerts by media type. Aggregators do not provideoriginal content but simply aggregate news from other sources. Online news sources are thosethat use the Internet as the primary means for news dissemination.
    • Table 3: HealthMap Crisis Google News Query List HealthMap Crisis Google News Query List intitle:syria "dier al zour" OR "dayr al zour" OR "deir al zour" OR "dier az zour" OR "dier ez zour" OR "dayr az zour" OR "dayr ez zour" OR "deir az zour" OR "deir ez zour" OR "dier al zawr" OR "dier al zaur" OR "dier al zor" OR "dier al zur" intitle:syrian "dier al zour" OR "dayr al zour" OR "deir al zour" OR "dier az zour" OR "dier ez zour" OR "dayr az zour" OR "dayr ez zour" OR "deir az zour" OR "deir ez zour" OR "dier al zawr" OR "dier al zaur" OR "dier al zor" OR "dier al zur" intitle:"al assad" "dier al zour" OR "dayr al zour" OR "deir al zour" OR "dier az zour" OR "dier ez zour" OR "dayr az zour" OR "dayr ez zour" OR "deir az zour" OR "deir ez zour" OR "dier al zawr" OR "dier al zaur" OR "dier al zor" OR "dier al zur" intitle:syria missing OR killed OR shaheed OR martyr OR arrested OR eyewitness OR report OR basharcrimes OR daraa OR deraa OR daraa OR dara3a OR hims OR homs OR latakia OR lattakia OR latakiyah intitle:syrian missing OR killed OR shaheed OR martyr OR arrested OR eyewitness OR report OR basharcrimes OR daraa OR deraa OR daraa OR dara3a OR hims OR homs OR latakia OR lattakia OR latakiyah intitle:"al assad" missing OR killed OR shaheed OR martyr OR arrested OR eyewitness OR report OR basharcrimes OR daraa OR deraa OR daraa OR dara3a OR hims OR homs OR latakia OR lattakia OR latakiyah intitle:syria damascus OR damas OR baniyas OR banyas OR tartus OR jableh OR jabla OR jebleh OR jabala OR jablah OR jabala OR zabadani OR harrasta OR harasta OR daraya OR darayya OR daraiya OR darayia intitle:syrian damascus OR damas OR baniyas OR banyas OR tartus OR jableh OR jabla OR jebleh OR jabala OR jablah OR jabala OR zabadani OR harrasta OR harasta OR daraya OR darayya OR daraiya OR darayia intitle:"al assad" damascus OR damas OR baniyas OR banyas OR tartus OR jableh OR jabla OR jebleh OR jabala OR jablah OR jabala OR zabadani OR harrasta OR harasta OR daraya OR darayya OR daraiya OR darayia intitle:syria zgharta OR madaya OR qaboon OR baalba OR hauran OR horan OR hawran OR houran OR "abu kamal" OR "bou kamal" intitle:syrian zgharta OR madaya OR qaboon OR baalba OR hauran OR horan OR hawran OR houran OR "abu kamal" OR "bou kamal" intitle:"al assad" zgharta OR madaya OR qaboon OR baalba OR hauran OR horan OR hawran OR houran OR "abu kamal" OR "bou kamal" intitle:syria douma -lebanon intitle:syrian douma -lebanon intitle:"al assad" douma -lebanon intitle:syria hama -boureima intitle:syrian hama –boureima intitle:"al assad" hama -boureimaWhile duplicate articles were common, particularly syndicated articles from news agencies, therange of sources was large. The top 100 media contributors represent sources headquartered in33 different countries, making up 25,301 events, or 54.5% of the total events collected duringthe time period. CPA identified the following significant events covered by media during thecourse of the unrest in Syria from June 13 thru December 12, 2011 [See Table 4 and Figure 6]
    • Table 4: Significant events covered by media during the course of the unrest in Syria from June13 thru December 12, 2011 as identified by Change Point AnalysisDate Significant Events Covered by Media7/17/2011 3 dominating events: ● Attack in Zabadani and arrest of 500 by government ● Attack in Albukamal and the government having to losing the battle ● Meeting of opposition in Turkey to form the National Salvation Council ● The other events are less important: ○ Funerals in Damascus ○ Carnival in Damascus ○ Killings in Homs7/31/2011 ● Major operations in Hama with killing between 40 and 120 ● Hague, UA, France, UK condemn killing8/20/2011 ● Tanks, shelling, killing in Homs ● Assad plans to address ● Iran appoints new ambassador8/31/2011 ● Large number killed during Ramadan ● Government sweeps through Hama after Ramadan ● 88 killed during torture ● Attorney general resign ● Sanctions against the regime build up9/17/2011 ● More resort to violence by protestors ● Large number killed that weekend: 20-40 ● Jordanian-Palestinian Mossad spy helped Israel kill Hezbollah chief ● Opposition meets in Damascus countryside ● Refugees in Lebanon reach 4000 ● Hussein Harmoush retracts his statements ● Russia active diplomatically trying to broker talks9/27/2011 ● Lots do discussion of the position of Christians: leadership and community ● The formation of free army units ● Attack on Rastan where unit of free army is active ● Economic talk: Syria stops imports, oil export stops, worry about economic collapse ● Killing of Zainab Housni ● Transitional counsel opens office in turkey10/28/2011 ● 40-44 killed ● Protestors demand no-fly zone ● US firm admits aiding Assad Internet monitoring ● Assad meets Nasrallah and they disagree on funding the tribunal ● Syria adds ruble and yuan to convertible currencies ● Syrian free army active11/13/2011 The repercussions to the suspension of Syrias membership in the Arab league: ● Attacks on embassies in Damascus: Qatari, Saudi, Turkish, French
    • ● Syria asks for a summit ● Russia to continue supporting Syria with arms ● Some opposition criticizes the suspension as internationalization of the Syria issue ● UN welcomes the suspensionFigure 6: HealthMap Crisis: Syria Events per Day, June 13, 2011 - January 8, 2012. Red pointsrepresent significant events covered by the media as identified by Change Point Analysis(CPA).ConclusionSince April 23, 2011, the Syria Tracker (http://syriatracker.crowdmap.com) crowdsourcingapplication has been collecting citizen reports of crimes against humanity as part of the Syrianprotests for reform. Supplementing these reports with multiple sources for verification, SyriaTracker consolidates these eyewitness reports with, advanced mining and aggregation ofEnglish news feeds, statistical reports and visualizations in Arabic and English. But SyriaTracker’s ultimate goal is not to provide numbers, but to preserve the name, and the location ofeach victim in this unfolding tragedy so that they will not have died in vain. Whenever possible,each death is also linked with photo and video evidence which, although it may be graphic anddisturbing, does support the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council to create adocumented record so that these crimes will not be forgotten.A single place to pull disparate reports on human rights violations together in a crowdsourcedway is crucial to make sense of the broader pattern of abuse and demonstrate a widespreadand systematic attack on civilians, the legal qualification of crimes against humanity. SyriaTracker documented and mapped thousands of reports. We hope these documentations serveas an evidence on where harm was inflicted upon citizens in Syria. This is important in order tochange the nature of advocacy around the plight of the Syrian people – and not only advocacy,
    • but also long-term thinking about a post-Assad Administration transitional justice and shorter-term thinking about accountability for the most senior members of the regime.
    • References 1. Brownstein JS, Freifeld CC, Madoff LC. Digital disease detection–harnessing the Web for public health surveillance. N Engl J Med 2009;360:2153–7. 2. Brownstein JS, Freifeld CC, Reis BY, Mandl KD. Surveillance Sans Frontieres: Internet-based emerging infectious disease intelligence and the HealthMap project. PLoS Med 2008;5:e151. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050151. 3. Freifeld CC, Mandl KD, Reis BY, Brownstein JS. HealthMap: global infectious disease monitoring through automated classification and visualization of Internet media reports. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2008 Mar-Apr;15(2):150-7. Epub 2007 Dec 20. PubMed PMID: 18096908; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2274789. 4. Erdman, C., and Emerson, J., bcp: An R package for Performing a Bayesian Analysis of Change Point Problems. Journal of Statistical Software, 2007. 23(3): p. 1- 13.