Defining a World with New Power

Technology gives journalists new power. Instead of complaining about the dramatic shifts in our industry, we celebrate it because it provides new ways of solving age-old problems that allow journalists to go far beyond storytelling.

In a country like the Philippines, where institutions are weak and corruption is endemic, we can capture the zeitgeist of a frustrated society, push action and help build institutions bottom-up.

Which is exactly what we set out to do in Rappler.

Using a patented user-engagement model, we link the main components into a cycle driving action. Content creation is amplified by social media, which allows engagement that leads to crowdsourcing. The most immediate easy action is to click how you feel – a mood meter with every story, and every mood vote is aggregated into a mood navigator that displays the top 10 stories (with the most number of votes) and the crowdsourced mood of the day. Pulling all that data together, you can see trends in months and years – only one of the strands of big data we monitor, giving more insight to the public we serve.

The growth of social media has trounced the powerful gate-keeping power of traditional media and democratized information. Now we no longer need expensive equipment and corporate structures to ripple a message through society.

Crowdsourcing capitalizes on the emotions driving social media, which affects us biologically. Numerous papers have been written about how the use of social media affects the plasticity of the brain and is mildly addictive. Among others, FMRI studies show those using Twitter and Facebook have elevated levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain linked to addiction, and oxytocin, known as the sex or love hormone.

As we learn more about how this changes us, we see how easy it is to drive action. When you have crowdsourced actions, you have an engaged community which can then be funneled to act for real world impact.

Rappler has four main initiatives turning social media crowdsourcing into civic engagement working collaboratively with our partners:

1.#BudgetWatch: How can we stop corruption? Show me the money. Which is exactly what this microsite, working with the Open Budget Partnership, is about.

We present budget data and concepts in easily digestible and visually engaging ways like the game of Slides & Ladders to show the budget approval process or another interactive game allowing the public to submit their own budget priorities and see how their proposals impact different sectors.

Moving easily between real-world forums with newsmakers, social media interactions and virtual actions, this is the first iteration of Rappler’s anti-corruption efforts.

2. #ProjectAgos: We turn the same tested workflow to deal with climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in a country that has an average of 20 typhoons every year. According to the World Disaster Report 2012, the Philippines is the 3 rd most disaster-prone nation globally.

In collaboration with the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission, the Office of Civil Defense, the Department of Social Welfare & Development and other national and local government units as well as private sector partners and the UNDP, Rappler is piloting a one-stop online platform that combines top-down government action with bottom-up civic engagement.

Project Agos includes a risk knowledge database and interactive tools like hazard maps, compliance trackers that aid officials in preparation for the storm. Our microsite includes a wide range of information necessary beforeduring and a fter any weather disturbance.

During a typhoon, a crowdsourced map of floods and calls for help provides real-time reporting, and first responders see and reply, allowing others who want to help a broader view. We’re in the process now of adding machine learning, an algorithm the crowd can effectively “teach” and which will then automatically map social media inputs building on the work of the Qatar Computing Research Institution (QCRI).

3. #HungerProject: The Philippines’ incidents of hunger continue to increase despite its growing GDP, among the highest in Asia and the world in recent years. Working with the World Food Program and the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development, we tell the stories that show how this can impact our future.

Stunting is a serious problem: we are #9 globally from a list of 14 countries where 80% of the world’s stunted population live. Stunted children are not only physically smaller, but they grow up with impaired cognitive development and suffer other health conditions.

4.#WomenMatter: a new initiative looking at women’s rights in a country that took 14 years to pass the contentious Reproductive Health Law, making sex education and contraceptives easily available. More than a year after the law was passed, it still hasn’t been implemented, after a Temporary Restraining Order was imposed by the Supreme Court. These are only some of the more apparent challenges for women in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation.

We will build this on top of an ongoing partnership with Pantene for #WhipIt, a campaign focusing on labels and gender bias. Rappler organized a women’s forum to launch an innovative ad campaign and commissioned a survey looking at how society perceives women today in the Philippines. The online ripple reverberated globally and hit a tipping point when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg posted the campaign, prompting P&G to announce it would bring the Philippine-born campaign to the West.

We have seen tremendous progress in our experiments, starting with Rappler itself. Our multimedia news site is just a little more than 2 years old, and these principles have made us the 3rd top online news site in our country, according to Alexa.

Let me end with big data and social network analysis. In the end, technology empowers by removing barriers to entry and engagement. Big data is publicly available – starting with what we put out there voluntarily on social networks. Understanding that and the way messages ripple out through social networks give us added insights into the kind of content we create for our audience.

I’ll leave you with 2 final examples of the impact of big data on our society:

1.In our mid-term elections, Rappler signed an agreement with our Commission on Elections, giving us access to the full data set of automated voting results. With that, we created a real-time reporting template that broke results down into granular details. No longer do you need to wait for the television anchor to announce the results you’re interested in. Now you can search – and go back in time – instantly. This made reporting transparent, and removed old allegations of bias or “trending” when reporting election results.

2.In August, 2013, a Facebook post against institutionalized corruption – a scandal Rappler reported on extensively – took 7 days to mobilize a protest of more than 100,000 people out on the streets. This outrage continues to simmer beneath the surface, demanding accountability from both the public and private sectors.

It’s a brave new world of endless possibilities – all of which give new power to citizens, who – armed with information – can work collaboratively with other stakeholders to solve age-old problems and strengthen democratic processes.

Source: (posted on Jan 22, 2014)

By: Maria Ressa


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