Journos: Mobile platform crowdsources verification of social media content, analyzes citizen news reporting, and extends the coverage of civic news

Turkey’s popular citizen journalism network, 140journos, provides a new platform solely for Twitter users who are interested, and engaged, in news sharing and reporting. Operating through a mobile app, website, and social media, it applies game mechanics and data visualization to reinvent the way citizen reporting is verified, and contextualized. First, game features crowdsource and promote geo-tagged, factual, photo and video-based reporting. Second, harnessed citizen data are used to display relevant background information to explicate where the specific news comes from. The app interface not only promotes verified and civic-minded citizen news, but also actively uses data to contextualize the incoming reports.

Photo of Burcu Baykurt
4 16

Written by

140journos has an established network on Twitter where we receive thousands of tweets every day on events varying from protests to local politics. We are building a new platform, Journos, which integrates a socio-technical process for the geo-tagged and visually supported reports on Twitter to be verified and contextualized. The Journos provides users with a selection of reporting tasks to be completed that is filtered through our social media presence and raw data. Users complete tasks relevant to them based on their location and interests. By completing different tasks, users then unlock different badges and receive points, thus gaining credibility and acquiring different editorial/reporting roles. Journos pushes citizen journalism beyond merely documenting events. It provides a variety of information; from environmental features of where the event takes place to the political dynamics that give insights into news. Every piece of visual evidence is watermarked by date, source, and location information through the application, therefore it becomes harder to manipulate reports. Simultaneously, the application's interface actively encourages users to report and consume news in a contextualized manner by showcasing the overall map of the citizen news network over-layered with the local, historical, and political insights. Overall, Journos app is a feedback system for citizen news on social media; run, verified, and curated by a unique interaction of citizens and technology. We take social media content, parse and filter it, and send it back.

In ONE sentence, tell us about your project to strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation.

Our mobile app takes the current form of citizen journalism on Twitter, which is a raveled mesh of raw data, commentary, and actions such as retweets and favorites, to analyze and structure into relevant pieces as verified and explicated by a network of citizen journalists and distributes filtered citizen reporting freely through web and social media.

Who will benefit from what you propose? What have you observed that makes you think that?

In its current form, citizen reporting on Twitter is quite vulnerable to misinformation, manipulation, and obfuscation, thereby lessening the impact of citizens’ voice in news production and consumption. Journos will gather the bits and pieces of information on social media, verify and contextualize all to provide a complete picture. By providing an application that not only filters but also explicates 140-character citizen reports, anyone who uses Twitter to receive and share news would benefit from this project.

What progress have you made so far?

We have already built the prototype of this application. On March 30 when local elections are held in Turkey, a beta version of this app will be tested with users who are also active members of the existing 140journos network in order to report from local ballot boxes around Turkey. Based on user experience and feedback, we will start developing the application.

What would be a successful outcome for your idea or project?

Our goal is to build a credible citizen news agency in which news is produced, verified, and explained by a large network of citizen reporters who set their own news agenda as they see fit. By providing a hub for citizen reporting to be verified, contextualized, and editorialized by Twitter users, this platform will act as a liaison network between news organizations and citizen reporters. In the long run, we imagine it to become a stand-alone news agency run, editorialized, and sustained by a large network of citizen reporters.

Who is on your team, and what are their relevant experiences or skills?

In addition to the almost 40K followers of 140journos on Twitter who actively produces news reports, the team is composed of members of the Institute of Creative Minds, a network of artists, designers, journalists, strategists, engineers, architects, and academics who carry out design, art, and media projects and spans from Istanbul to New York. Individual bios of the team members are as follows.

Engin Onder is the president and co-founder of Institute of Creative Minds, an Istanbul-based network of creative professionals. Upon his education in visual communication design and advertising, Onder scrutinizes the changing habits of news consumption through @140journos, the largest network and organized structure for citizen journalism in Turkey and holds talks on new media and citizen journalism in countries that span from Turkey to the U.S. Onder also develops art, design, culture and media projects for physical and digital public spaces, presents a radio show on Turkey's well-known crowdsourced radio and writes articles for a variety of magazines.

Cem Aydogdu is the president and co-founder of Institute of Creative Minds, an Istanbul-based network of creative professionals. After his career and interest in the Anatolian musicology and instruments, he continued his education in department of the western music and composition in Turkey and Italy. He leads the managerial operations and runs content development of @140journos.

Ogulcan Ekiz is a co-founder of Institute of Creative Minds, an Istanbul-based network of creative professionals. Participating in a variety of biennials, festivals, he addresses his interest in critical reading and writing. Ekiz scrutinizes the changing habits of news consumption and production through @140journos, the largest network and organized structure for citizen journalism in Turkey and leads the photography department of the project. Ekiz also worked for Adam Mickiewicz Institute as social media moderator.

Serdar Paktin graduated from Military High School and quit Air Force Academy. He has B.A. in Cultural Studies. He worked as an editor for Arena Magazine. He did his M.A. in Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research in New York. He did Strategic Planning for Marketing Communications. He worked as Strategic Director of Social Media Campaign for Republican People's Party (CHP) in 2011 Turkish General Elections. He took part in and as Content Strategist. He worked as a Senior Campaigner at Currently, he is teaching Online Reputation Management at Kadir Has University and is Content Strategy Consultant for Adam Mickiewicz Institute of Poland.

Igal Nassima is a programmer and artist from Istanbul, Turkey. His work focuses on creating socially networked environments for communities to create and form their own bodies of work. He founded 319 Scholes, an art space in New York focusing on digital arts in 2009 and is a co-creator of MyBlockNYC, an interactive mapping website that captures personal video accounts of New York City’s life and culture, which was included in MoMA’sTalk To Me exhibition in 2011.

Burcu Baykurt is a Ph.D. student in Communications at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Previously, she studied Political Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London and completed her M.A. in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.




Join the conversation:

Photo of Josh

I have really appreciated the work of 140journos, and this tool looks like an important and interesting way to help add structure, support verification and bring context and connection to the stream of citizen reporting that occurs on Twitter. Obviously, Twitter has epitomized how the open Internet can strengthen and expand freedom of expression, but I'd love to hear more about how this project seeks to strengthen the open web too.

Photo of Djordje

Hi Burcu, thank you for your proposal. Interesting project. Can you update us on what have you learned after local elections in Turkey and user testing?

Photo of Burcu

Hi Josh,

Thanks a lot for your question and very sorry for my tardy response. You will see below why we were busy and couldn’t follow up on this question as fast as we’d like. First of all, while our platform was founded on Twitter and primarily relies on it, it is not limited to it. And we’ve had a first-hand experience of how important it is to have a credible citizen journalism network that spans from the web to the social media in the past two weeks -- when Turkey’s government banned access to Twitter right before the local elections. While some users in Turkey were able to defy the ban by changing their DNS settings and using Tor, we also saw a steady decline in Twitter traffic as the ban continued. Yet, on the day of elections, Journos, with its web interface, social media network, and mobile usage, managed to inform, mobilize, and interact with hundreds of thousands of users (You can see the details below). Because our servers are based in the United States, we were able to sustain citizen reporting through our web-based and mobile platforms, acting in the form a tunnel network, during an official ban. It was important that we have rallied all the affordances of the open web and mobile applications -- as well as our reputation so far -- in order to sustain receiving and disseminating citizen reporting coming from the polling stations at a moment when the open web had had an official hit from Turkey’s government. And thanks to our network and the variety of tools and platforms we have relied on, we were able to quickly respond to the information needs of our community that demanded crowdsourced information, quick and multiple verification, and further explication on the web during the elections.

Photo of Burcu

Hi Djordje,

We had quite a beta test between March 30 and April 10. Until now, Journos were mostly focusing on rather local events, such as protests in particular cities, albeit simultaneously yet still somewhat disconnected. The local elections gave us an opportunity to test our platform through multiple channels (web, social media, and mobile) and speak to a much broader audience that is concerned with a national issue. In a nutshell, we have collected incredible amount of feedback on where this project should go, and confirmed our beliefs that it will make an impact on free and verified data that help citizens explain citizen reporting. In the first 5 days following the elections, we received 35K unique visitors and 46K page views to our cartographic web interface which streams only verified news. And please let me remind you that during that time Twitter was officially banned in Turkey. Because our website could pull data from Twitter feed and our servers are based in the United States, we were able to work through censorship and distribute news via our web-based and mobile platforms.

Now on to the details…

As soon as the voting concluded and the ballot-count kicked off on the evening of elections, Turkey’s Twitter timeline was swarming with reports of fraud, power outages, and paper ballots found in trash bins. Calls for people to go to local polling stations to watch the counting were circulating. And the mainstream media were reporting on totally conflicting election results. Our platform asked its followers to tweet the results from the ballot boxes. Citizens who were already at polling stations started taking pictures of the ballot box results and sent them to Journos via beta app, Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp as well as SMS. The response was so unexpectedly voluminous that we scaled our server, which is set up on Heroku Hosting using Node.js platform, up to 3-4 dynos to handle the traffic.

We collected over 6000 images of ballot counts, 75% of which came directly to our platform and the rest from Twitter. All the content is archived on S3 serves and we’re working on it for long-term archiving. Then a volunteer team of nearly 200 people, whom we organized through calls on Facebook and Twitter, started verifying those paper results with the official election results published by the electoral board. We had to live modify the system as volunteers kept on verification -- and realized that creating a trusted user base was very important to decrease the amount of errors. Thanks to that system modified on-the-go as the verification continued, a single piece of data could be verified at least three times by different users. Therefore, we managed to decrease the amount of error in crowdsourced verification to 3% range.

As a result of this massive work, we have identified irregularities between the crowdsourced data and the official results and contributed to an official complaint made by the opposition party to the electoral board -- and not to mention launched Turkey’s first citizen vote counting system on our platform, which will be improved and readied for the presidential elections in August. We are now analyzing all the data we’ve received and preparing for the next round of beta testing in May when there will be another round of nationwide protests in Turkey following the Labor Day.