Amnesty Decoders: Digital Volunteers Join Together to Crowdsource Human Rights Research

Amnesty's global team of Decoders recently exposed the truth about environmental damage in the Niger Delta.

Amnesty International is successfully harnessing crowdsourcing and digital volunteering to tackle human rights abuses around the world.

Author Tristan Rayner, 04.19.18

Translation Tristan Rayner:

Amnesty International is successfully harnessing crowdsourcing and digital volunteering to tackle human rights abuses around the world.

Want to become a human rights activist? With Amnesty’s digital volunteering platform, it’s easier than ever. Amnesty Decoders is a global network of digital volunteers, all using their computers or phone to help Amnesty’s researchers sort through pictures, documents and information and track and expose human rights violations.

Their latest project has uncovered shocking environmental damage to the Niger Delta. The volunteer activists used micro-tasking to split up large jobs, such as analysing thousands of images or documents, to unearth new information about alleged negligence in Nigeria by oil giants Shell and Eni.

A total of 3,545 people, from 142 countries, took part in the project to review images and documents. They answered 163,063 individual questions about reports and photographs and worked 1,300 hours – the equivalent of someone working full-time for eight months.

In the oil spills project, Amnesty’s digital army reviewed images of oil spills and were asked to describe all the photographs of spills published by Shell and Eni, and to highlight anything that looked unusual. The reason for this is that if Shell or Eni are able to claim that an oil spill was caused by a third-party – usually sabotage of theft – then there is no compensation paid to affected locals.

At least 89 oil spills were found to have reasonable doubt surrounding the cause provided by the oil companies, where poor maintenance or corrosion were the likely root causes. That may mean dozens of affected communities have been left without compensation they may deserve. Already, the Niger Delta is one of the world’s most polluted regions in the world and communities in the region face difficult circumstances.

In the same project, documents and reports published by Shell and Eni were reviewed to establish if the companies are meeting Nigerian government regulations, where the site of a spill must be visited within 24 hours of it being reported. The analysis from Amnesty shows that Shell responded on only 26 per cent of occasions, with Eni meeting its obligations 76 per cent of the time. Amnesty report that on one occasion it took 430 days for Eni to visit the site of a leak.

Amnesty’s findings will be reported to the government of Nigeria, and lawmakers will be called upon to improve regulation in the oil industry.

Join the Decoder Team

Anyone can join the Amnesty Decoder team and get to work on the projects underway. The latest project is #ToxicTwitter, where participants answer questions after reviewing tweets left on Twitter, to help work out whether selected tweets are abusive or problematic. The aim of the project is to expose sexist, racist and other forms of abuse against women on Twitter. Already, more than 4,000 people have sifted through a selection of tweets, answering more than 200,000 questions. With 500,000 more tweets still to review, the project could use your help too.

Crowdsourcing has been a popular way to tackle difficult problems that exist on a wide scale, such as a crowdsourced database of hate speech to fight genocide, the World Clean Up app that lets people map illegal trash dumps in preparation for a global clean up, and Safecity, an Indian app that enables women to share experiences and talk about sexual harrassment.

To discover more or join the Amnesty Decoder team, just click here.

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