The financing, arming, and coordination of atrocity perpetrators are too-often enabled through the activities of third parties such as multinational companies or financial institutions. And Humanity United and USAid started a tech challenge to address this problem and others related to atrocities. This is my solution….
A system is needed to identify and spotlight enablers of atrocities. The proposed solution is a robust web app that leverages the global reach of the Internet, the numerous form factors of web-enabled devices from mobile to desktop computers, and the latest advances in social networking and telecommunication APIs to allow easy entry of enabler activity that can be shared with friends around the world.
Detailed Description & Rationale
Third-party enablers of crimes against humanity exist because they are either unaware of the consequences of their actions or, if they are aware, lack the public pressure to cause them to stop. Therefore a system is needed to (1) call out the enabling activities and (2) bring public pressure to bear on them. The system I propose is an innovative web app tailored to the needs of those identifying and spotlighting enablers.
In order to identify enabling activities, I propose a simple web interface where anyone can enter an enabler’s action(s) and upload supporting evidence. In order to preserve the anonymity of the individual providing evidence, the web interface will not require a user account or any identifiable information. Instead, the individual can provide a password, which will allow him/her to edit the submission later.
Furthermore, the informant will be able to access the web interface from any Internet enabled device: phone, tablet, e-book, computer, etc. The interface will automatically resize and respond based on the device’s display capabilities. This will allow the person to identify enablers even while on the go—away from a desktop computer. The interface can also be easily internationalized to provide access for non-English speakers. (See endatrocity.com/report-enabler for a prototype.)
To bring public pressure to bear on the enabler, I propose leveraging social media, like Facebook and Twitter. People often feel helpless when they read about the horrible actions of foreign governments. On the contrary, the popularity of social networking has shown people are willing to “like” or “re-tweet” stories of interest. Therefore, by asking friends and followers to spread the word on a good cause, one is able to tap into the viral effects of word of mouth on a global scale. In addition, when stories go viral online, they are often picked up by traditional media (TVs, newspapers, and magazines), which creates a circular loop of more attention back online. By taking advantage of the fact that this all happens online, we are able to track which enabler’s actions were more viral in order to improve the network effects for subsequent stories. (See endatrocity.com/enablers for a prototype.)
The Internet today is prevalent throughout the world and is accessible from mobile devices to desktop computers, which is why it makes it the natural medium for this task. However, informants may not necessary be familiar with computers, which is why alternative methods of submitting information include texting or calling. There are even telecommunication APIs (application programming interfaces) that will automatically process a text or voice message and submit it to the web. It may even turn out that the best way to pick up enabler actions is to monitor twitter for trends related to atrocities. There are algorithms that make this technically feasible.
It’s likely that informants are able to get access to the web (though alternative methods like SMS or phone can also be integrated). It’s also likely that people will want to share the enabler actions with their friends and followers as they currently do for other causes they believe in. Operationally, running a website is inexpensive and proven to be robust enough for sensitive information like banking. A web-based solution directly addresses the problem by providing a broad medium to identify and spotlight enablers. And it makes use of the latest technology by adapting to the capabilities of the device and harnessing the social web.
Proposing a solution to an unsolved problem such as identifying and spotlighting enablers of atrocities means that no one knows for sure what will work. And, as any successful entrepreneur will tell you (e.g., “the lean startup”), figuring out what will work requires feedback and iterations. With that said, I think the best place to start is a responsive web app that works across multiple devices from mobile to desktop computers.