Tools Journalists Can Use To Protect Their Work Online


In light of the recent NSA revelations, as well as the ongoing attempts to censor journalists and other online content producers by governments worldwide, we thought it would be a good idea to point out some tools available for use.

  1. –  Reporters Without Borders recently launched this secure portal that publishes articles, photography, video and audio that is either partially or entirely banned in countries where there is heavy censorship and surveillance.  The site has so far received content from Belarus, Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Syria. All news reports are published in English and French. The site also accepts articles that were originally published in Arabic, Chinese, Persian or Russian.
  2. Encrypted DocumentsJorge Luis Sierra, a Knight International Journalism Fellow, created a simple and easy-to-use tutorial on how to encrypt documents using Word for a Mac, Microsoft Word 10 documents on a PC and Open Office documents.
  3. Secure Mobile Phones – Mobile phones have become the most important tool for journalists, but these tools can easily be hacked by anyone anywhere.  Here are some ideas to consider:
    • If you live and work in an area where there is suspected or known surveillance, don’t keep any sensitive information on the mobile. If you have to, use an encryption program like TrueCrypt or a strong mobile and SIM card password.
    • Disable your Wi-Fi location or GPS and mobile data.  This will reduce the risk of tracking your location.  It also saves battery power and reduces unwanted data flow initiated by applications running remotely by your mobile carrier.
    • Consider using separate mobiles for professional and personal use.  Not only are your professional contacts and sources at risk if your mobile is lost or stolen, but the safety of your family and friends is also in jeopardy.
    • Consider hiding your identity by setting up your mobile to hide your number when you make calls.
  4. Secure Computers – The same rules above apply here as well. In addition:
    • Know Your Environment – Don’t look at sensitive information in a public space or in an open work space (cubicle).  If you have to be in public, use a laptop privacy screen filter and make sure it is password protected (and never share the password with anyone).  Never leave your laptop unattended and on. Instead, turn it off or put it into a password-protected “sleep” mode.
    • If you have to leave your computer at an office or your home, put it away in a secure place.
    • Always back up your files either in an encrypted cloud program or in a password protected external hard drive that can also be put in a secure place.  Some people recommend the external hard drive and computer be secured in separate locations.  If you have extremely sensitive information, you might want to consider having two or even three external hard drives secured in three different locations where no one would ever think of finding them.
    • Your computer becomes less vulnerable to hacking if you make sure it’s programs are kept up to date and upgraded regularly, including anti-virus programs.
  5.  Other issues to consider:
    • This article tells you signs someone is spying on your phone.
    • Orweb, Tor and Covert Browser (iPhones and iPads only) are apps that allow you to surf the Internet anonymously.  Most web browsers (Google Chrome, FireFox etc) have an option to browse the Internet privately as well.  Always delete your browsing history, cookies and cache.
    • ChatSecure lets Apple users chat in encrypted form, while Gibberbot encrypts the content of your instant messages.
    • There are many encrypted email services available, such as HushMail.
    • Always send or receive information – especially financial information – on websites that use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).  This protocol means that only you and your server can view your information which is encrypted.
    • If you use multiple passwords (a good idea), consider using KeePass a free, open-source software that allows you to save passwords using only one primary password to unlock them.

Of course, there is no absolute way to totally protect yourself from hacking or surveillance, but if you use these tools, you will have better peace of mind.

The Basics of Mastering An Online Video Interview

Last week we discussed the importance of video for organizing.  GWA managing director Talia Whyte hosted an exciting webinar recently on basic video journalism.  Below she shares some tips on conducting video interviews.

In the many years I have been a journalist, I have had the opportunity to interview some fascinating people, many of whom are well-respected social activists in their fields.  Most recently I interviewed two very engaging subjects – TMS Ruge of Project Diaspora and printmaker Favianna Rodriguez.

Here are some basic tips on mastering a video interview:

1. Check Your Video Equipment: Before you do a video interview, you want to check out your equipment.  Do you need an external microphone or extra batteries?  Will you be shooting in a dark space or will there be a lot of noise?  As discussed here before about audio reporting, make sure you are prepared for every possible situation.

2. Prepare Questions: When your equipment is set, do research on the kinds of questions you want to ask the subject.  With the convenience of the Internet, you can pretty much find information about anybody very quickly.  It is also a good idea to review previous interviews about the subject so you don’t ask repetitive questions.  You should ask your most important questions first.  In many cases, the subject may have limited time to do an interview with you.  Even if you only get to ask one question, make sure it is your best question.

3. Shooting the Interview: Whether you are using a mobile phone or a more traditional video camera, make sure the subject can be properly seen and heard.  In both videos here I am both the camera person and interviewer, so the camera is right in front of the subject.  I am also standing while shooting the videos with a tripod.  Always use a tripod in every situation!

4. Shooting B-roll: In some situations you want to use b-roll – alternative footage intercut with footage from an interview or documentary.  B-roll is used for giving more context to an interview, or it could also cover any bad spots in an interview.  I didn’t feel the need to use b-roll in the Ruge interview.  However, it made sense to add b-roll to the Rodriguez interview as a great deal of the video deals with her artwork and viewers would have a better understanding of what she was talking about.  Generally after an interview, I shoot b-roll footage based on what was discussed beforehand.

5. Back it all up: Once you have successfully recorded your video, don’t forget to immediately back up or sync your material on a computer or cloud system, especially if it was recorded on a mobile phone.  It will relieve you of any stress later on.

Food MythBusters Seeks To Highlight Problematic Food Industry

In recent years more Americans have become conscientious about the food they eat.  Activist Frances Moore Lappé helped to start this food revolution in the 1970s with her best-selling book, Diet for a Small Planet, which argues that grain-fed meat production is wasteful and a contributor to global food insecurity.  She resolves that world hunger is not caused by a lack of food, but rather by poor food policies dictated mostly by big business (Big Ag).

Poor access to healthy, nutritious foods continue to plague the United States, as the rates for obesity, diabetes and heart disease grow rapidly.  While many of the problems addressed in Diet for a Small Planet have only gotten worse, a new generation of food activists – literally – are fighting Big Ag with the use of social media and multimedia storytelling.

Anna Lappé, Frances Moore Lappé’s daughter, recently launched Food MythBusters, a user-friendly online resource center “to combat pervasive  industry myths about the food we eat and how it’s grown.”

We were invited to a pre-website launch event last week, where the Lappés talked about their new initiative.

“Sustainable farming does work,” said Anna Lappé.  “The food industry has given the impression that growing sustainable food and solving world hunger are two different things, when in fact, they can both work together.”

During the event Lappé premiered the above video to the audience.  In the animated short film, it explains three main food myths being pushed by Big Ag and what she thinks are real solutions for many agricultural problems.

Food MythBusters is a collaborative of many US-based food justice organizations like the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Food & Water Watch and Slow Food USA.  The website and video production are done by Free Range Studios, one of the country’s leading cause-based online video companies.

The ultimate goal of the website is to use short films to talk about food politics and getting users to take action.  This video is geared towards getting Californians to vote yes on Proposition 37,which would require labeling of genetically modified foods.

Organizations like Food MythBusters and Forest Whitaker’s PeaceEarth are part of a growing movement of digital activists who see the importance of using video to advance social change.  Being able to see a problem first hand in a well-shot video that provides fair and balanced information and resources on a subject, whether it be on food security or conflict resolution, makes viewers more likely to want to proactively do something about it.

As Frances Moore Lappé said, any great social movement begins with communicating with each other about the problem and taking action.

“Hope is not what we find in evidence; it is what we find in action,” she said.

The Latest in Tech For Social Good

We had such a blast attending both the Social Good Summit and the Clinton Global Initiative that we had to write a second post about some of the great tech innovations we saw.  While the Social Good Summit is known as the must-attend event on all things digital, CGI also had many commitments and discussions this year showcasing technology for the greater good.  President Clinton recently wrote a piece in Time Magazine, discussing five ideas changing the world right now.  Technology was at the top of his list.  “Forget what you may have heard about a digital divide or worries that the world is splintering into ‘info haves’ and ‘info have-nots,’  Clinton said.  “The fact is, technology fosters equality, and it’s often the relatively cheap and mundane devices that do the most good.”

There were many examples of how nonprofits, governments and the private sector play a role in making the world better with technology. Here is our highlights roundup:

Slavery Footprint – President Obama announced a new initiative to combat human trafficking at CGI.  The US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons launched the platform last year to allow users to calculate how their lifestyles contribute to the demand for human trafficking.  The goal was to register at least 150,000 people and calculate their “slavery footprint” in real time using an online survey and mobilizing them into action.  According to the State Department, they reached their registration goal within a month and continue to bring more awareness to this growing problem.

IntraHealth International – President Clinton presented a CGI commitment to IntraHealth International for its expansion of access to better training for Kenyan health workers through locally designed technology, or specially mobile phone platforms.  Traditional classroom training can be expensive, time consuming, and often out of reach to health workers in remote areas.  This initiative will design and test an open source, mobile learning program for these workers that is low-cost, easy to use and adapt and workable on commonly used mobile devices in Kenya.  Eighty maternal health workers will be trained in the initial phase by Kenyan software developers, which will include many emerging women technologists.

PeaceEarth – Academy Award-winning actor and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation Forest Whitaker came to the Social Good Summit to announce the launch of his new charity PeaceEarth, a humanitarian agency that promotes peace, conflict resolution and development through the use of social media and multimedia storytelling.  “I see computers and the Internet as an evolution,” Whitaker said during a media roundtable at the Summit. “It moves into the mystical and spiritual. In one second, we can touch a million people, and even move them. We’re all holding these [mobile devices], but we think of them as things, not a part of ourselves. But if you look at them as an organic being, they become a new attribute that we have. This phone is a part of me. I think we’re evolving to understand that these things are part of us.”

Catapult Women Deliver founded Catapult, a new online crowd-funding site designed to support women and gender equality worldwide.  According to a video on its homepage, none of the money raised goes towards “fine print stuff,” but rather goes directly to described projects.  “We understand that transparency can be a bit of a buzz word. But it really describes the experience of crowd-funding on Catapult — transparency is baked into our DNA. Each project includes a detailed description, budget (including administrative costs) GPS coordinates, and video or pictures of the people involved. And all the information is coming straight from the partner organization doing the work on the ground.”  Catapult officially launches on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child.

Tech & Farming in Nigeria – During a CGI panel discussion called the “Future of Food,” Nigerian Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Akinwumi Adesina stressed the importance of technology supporting farmers.  Adesina noted that mobile technology is part of the legacy of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and that the Nigerian government has continued to support emerging technology through local farmers and its fertilizer subsidies program.   For many years rural farmers depended on getting their subsidies from shady middlemen, who would either steal all the money or charge a high fee.  Adesina said only 11 percent of farmers actually received their full money through middlemen.  Now the subsidies are sent directly to farmers on their mobile phones and the farmer direct receipt of subsidies has dramatically risen to 90 percent.  “That small technology in that mobile phone is going to make a big difference,” he said.  Adesina also announced on Friday that his government will distribute free mobiles to 10 million farmers in 2013.

Living Goods: During a panel discussion at the Social Good Summit, Living Goods founder Chuck Slaughter described how his business model is directly bringing health care to the poor.  Living Goods essentially is the “Avon of pro-poor products” by hiring female independent contractors in Africa to sell health and wellness products like soap, medicine, bed nets and fortified foods door-to-door.  Smartphones play a big role in making this operation happen, including direct marketing, using SMS texting to register pregnant women and newborns, quality control, training opportunities and managing the workforce.  Most importantly, Living Goods provides entrepreneurial opportunities for women, while supporting healthy communities and eradicating poverty all at the same time.  This was by far our favorite social good tech takeaway of the week!

Development ChannelThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had major clout at both events this year.  The Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations has launched the Development Channel blog for discussions on innovation in development challenges worldwide.  Posts will be primarily written by the initiative’s director and senior fellow Isobel Coleman and fellow Terra Lawson-Remer, as well as other thought leaders and practitioners in the field.  The Gates Foundation also supports the Poverty Matters blog on The Guardian’s website.