Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Where's the Oil? Citizen Reporters Deliver a Map of Oil Spill Sightings

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, June 29 2010


The map generated by reports about the presence or absence of oil using Oil Reporter, an open data application built by CrisisCommons and its allies.

A nonprofit initiative's open-data, citizen-journalism project offers a clear picture of the progress of oil across the Gulf of Mexico wherever everyday people can get close enough to the water to report what they see.

Oil Reporter, a project of the loosely organized nonprofit Crisis Commons, offers a pretty complete picture of where oil is, and even where it isn't, based on the reports that people have been submitting via smartphone applications. The reports contain the latitude and longitude of the reporter, ratings between one and ten on how much oil is there, whether oil has affected wetlands, and whether there is oil-affected wildlife present. People who use the app can also include a picture.

Citizens have reported oil sightings and sent pictures of oil, both the tarballs and sludge that washes up and the slicks that loom out at sea.

There are conflicting reports, including one that reports “all clear off shore 1-4 miles off shore From Pensacola pass to Destin,” but that one is refuted by several other people.

It's the crowd in action: Messy, not always clear, but pretty accurate, all things considered. It's important to note that these are snapshots of the location of a moving target — the oil slick, the tarballs, and the sludge are all presumably on the move at all times.

It does seem more useful to look at the map than to follow the official Deepwater Horizon news feed. A recent press release sent by the joint federal-BP response team encouraged people to disbelieve “rumors” that oil had arrived in Pensacola, for example.

From the press release:

“Yes, there are tar balls here and there,” said Bianca Ephraim, a receptionist at the National Parks Service, “But our water is clear as glass.”

But citizen journalists, and official reports accessible from the Deepwater Horizon website if you know where to look, had already reported a more complete truth: While Pensacola is safe for now, it's protected by Pensacola Beach, which is actually stretch of beaches on a sandy bar. Those beaches have been closed for days now due to oil.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

More