The Whistle is a digital human rights reporting app.

The Whistle is currently in the alpha stage. Sign up to receive updates on The Whistle’s development.

What is The Whistle?

The rise of mobile phones and social media provides a new stream of data for documenting human rights violations. This is a significant opportunity, but one that is limited by the complications of verifying this information – particularly as civilian witnesses may not know how to produce verifiable reports, and because human rights NGOs may not have much time and expertise for verifying these reports.

The Whistle Project seeks to address this verification bottleneck with the Whistle App, a web and mobile app that allows civilians who have witnessed human rights violations to report them in a verifiable manner to the appropriate NGOs.

Through speeding and simplifying the verification process for these NGOs, The Whistle aims to support the variety and volume of civilian witnesses’ participation in human rights reporting.

The Whistle project is based at the University of Cambridge and has received funding from the ESRC IAA at Cambridge and from Wikirate. It is currently funded by a Horizon 2020 grant as part of the ChainReact consortium.

How it works

Prompting the production of verifiable information The civilian witness interface prompts users to supplement their human rights reports with metadata, such as place and time, as well as with corroborating information from other sources

Adding value to the verification process The back end cross-references submitted reports against a variety of third party information sources and tools, such as weather and map databases

Speeding the verification of information The human rights NGO dashboard gives users a wealth of cross-referenced information at their fingertips, reducing the time and digital expertise necessary to verify digital reports of violations.

News

Mar 16 2017

The Whistle’s Impact: A Case Study by the University of Cambridge

The Whistle has been featured as a case study on the University of Cambridge’s Research Impact page. A mobile app simplifies the process of reporting for the witness, whilst simultaneously prompting them to include the metadata information required for verification. Aside from providing more metadata for the fact-finder to corroborate, The Whistle also serves to educate witnesses … Continue reading The Whistle’s Impact: A Case Study by the University of Cambridge


Feb 19 2017

The IPF speaks to Rebekah Larsen about the importance of The Whistle

Penelope Sonder from The IPF spoke to Rebekah Larsen, a Research Assistant at The Whistle, about the necessity of digital human rights reporting and the challenges associated with verification, privacy, and communication. Acting as a new kind of mediator, The Whistle aims to help organisations to correctly and quickly verify as many reports as possible … Continue reading The IPF speaks to Rebekah Larsen about the importance of The Whistle


Oct 13 2016

The Whistle featured on the University of Cambridge website

The article provides context as to why digital verification is needed in the realm of human rights fact-finding. “In our digitally enabled world, a legion of ‘civilian witnesses’ has sprung up: individuals “in the wrong place at the wrong time” who capture an event and then publish the scrap of footage or the incriminating photograph … Continue reading The Whistle featured on the University of Cambridge website


Aug 29 2016

Why new smartphone apps aren’t the answer to refugee justice

Smartphones are critical for refugees, not only to communicate with family and friends but to serve as a potential reporting mechanism for human rights abuses. Whatsapp, a free app which enables users to make calls, send texts, and share photos and videos globally, provides refugees with a way of communicating with family or friends. Facebook … Continue reading Why new smartphone apps aren’t the answer to refugee justice


Aug 13 2016

Closing the Feedback Loop

Closing the feedback loop is one of the biggest tasks organizations face today. The feedback loop refers to the process through which organizations hear and respond to those in need through reporting mechanisms. In the realm of development assistance and human rights monitoring, a “broken feedback loop” describes a situation in which organizations hear but … Continue reading Closing the Feedback Loop


Jul 11 2016

The Art of Verification

While the use of video to record human rights violations is not new, the drastic impact of new technologies, stemming from the increased availability of mobile phones and the proliferation of digital social networks, have profound implications for human rights researchers, NGOs, and international organisations. For example, a large amount of videos on YouTube are … Continue reading The Art of Verification


Jun 25 2016

The Whistle at RightsCon: Calls for Collaboration

In March 2016, three members of The Whistle team traveled to San Francisco for the annual RightsCon conference, the largest get-together of those working on the intersection of technology and human rights, consisting of human rights advocates, researchers, lawyers, academics, tech company representatives and government officials. We gave a brief presentation on The Whistle’s initiatives in … Continue reading The Whistle at RightsCon: Calls for Collaboration


Jun 23 2016

The Whistle featured at the ‘Technology for the Bottom Billion’ Workshop

On Friday the 10th of June, The Whistle took part in a workshop organised by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge. The workshop brought together technological initiatives, which could potentially serve as alleviating responses to the plight of those who live on less than $2 a day. In … Continue reading The Whistle featured at the ‘Technology for the Bottom Billion’ Workshop


Jun 8 2016

10 Things to Know About Social Media Verification

To give you a brief overview over some of the most important aspects and challenges of verification and how The Whistle fits in to this picture, we have come up with the following list of ’10 Things to Know About Social Media Verification’.   1. Collecting verifiable information Much of the burden of the verification … Continue reading 10 Things to Know About Social Media Verification


May 14 2016

Human Rights in the Digital Age: CGHR Practitioner Paper #1

The Centre of Governance and Human Rights* at the University of Cambridge recently launched the inaugural paper in the ‘Human Rights in the Digital Age’ series, which aims at facilitating the sharing of knowledge and practices of human rights in a digital age. The paper by Christoph Koettl (Senior Analyst, Amnesty International), was launched on … Continue reading Human Rights in the Digital Age: CGHR Practitioner Paper #1


Research

The Digital Information Verification Field |October 2015

Download our report on The Digital Information Verification Field
Report

Launch our Field Visualization Tool
Report

One of The Whistle team’s first tasks in developing a human rights reporting platform was to get a good feel for the current field. The linked report and visualization above are the result of several weeks of research and analysis on this front.
 
There are continual developments in the digital information verification field, as new initiatives arise, institutions catch onto the opportunities embedded in verification, and the flood of information shows no sign of calming. This is a quickly growing space, and as such, we view this report and accompanying visualization as a snapshot; no doubt, within the coming years and even months, many more initiatives will arise, more approaches will be explored, and more technical tools will be developed. Given the relative young age of the field, it is ripe for collaboration on a number of fronts. Different initiatives hold expertise in varying aspects of verification. For those initiatives with compatible aims, especially those centered on journalists, activists, and civilians, the main barrier to collaboration might be a lack of knowledge about the field. We hope our research might serve to break down such barriers.
 

The Team

Dr Ella McPherson

Ella is Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology at the University of Cambridge. Her current research in Cambridge’s Department of Sociology is on the impact of social media on human rights reporting, funded by an ESRC Future Research Leader fellowship and the Isaac Newton Trust. She is also the Anthony L. Lyster Fellow in Sociology at Queens’ College and a Research Associate of Cambridge’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights, where she leads the Human Rights in the Digital Age research theme.

Rebekah Larsen

Rebekah is a PhD student in sociology at Cambridge, also holding an MPhil in Technology Policy. Her research is centered on the social impacts of information communication technologies. She is particularly interested in the effects of relations between civil society, corporations, and governments on development of Internet regulation. Rebekah graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), where her thesis was on the historical and political development of the Internet protocols (TCP/IP). Prior to Cambridge, she worked at a US law firm and with a digital rights NGO.

Isabel Guenette Thornton

Isabel is the Product Lead at the Whistle and a PhD student in Sociology at Cambridge. She also holds an MPhil from Cambridge in Media and Culture with a focus on digital technology. Prior to Cambridge, she was an early member of Nest (acquired by Google in 2014) as the product manager of the Nest Learning Thermostat, a thermostat that uses advanced machine learning to help users save energy (named one of TIMES Magazine's 50 Most Influential Gadgets). Her interests include the use of advanced software agents in domestic and intimate spaces, mediated interaction in augmented and virtual reality, and the use of digital tools in a human rights context.

Matt Mahmoudi

Matt is a Research Assistant and Design Lead at The Whistle, and is currently an MPhil student in Development Studies at Cambridge. His BA research was focused on whether digital initiatives can generate greater accountability than conventional IGOs. He is also the founder and Editor of Politics Made Public (PMP), a not-for-profit company with the purpose of eliminating political apathy through the delivery of approachable and engaging political news. In 2014, he founded favourful, a mobile application based on the gift-economy for exchanging favours and services, in an attempt to experiment with non-capitalist modes of exchange.

Sarah Villeneuve

Sarah is a recent graduate of Royal Holloway, University of London where she received a BA in Politics and International Relations. She will be attending the London School of Economics and Political Science in the fall. Her interests include technology policy and the use of ICTs for citizen empowerment.

Dr Richard Mills

Richard is a Research Associate at Cambridge University. For the last two years he has been leading the research effort of the WikiRate project - the aim of which is to design and build a platform for the peer production of information about the Environmental, Social and Governance performance of corporations. Prior to this Richard studied code-sharing commons as a Research Associate in the Sociology Department of Lancaster University, having previously completed a PhD in Applied Social Statistics at Lancaster on the subject of distributed moderation voting systems.

Contact

We are interested in hearing ideas and feedback from civilian witnesses, human rights NGOs, potential collaborators, and interested members of the public.

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The Whistle has close links with other projects and institutions:

  • Social Media, Human Rights NGOs, and the Potential of Governmental Accountability

  • #ICT4HR

  • Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)

  • Department of Sociology

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