WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- PeaceTech Lab is a nonprofit organization located in Washington that uses technology, media, and data to help reduce violent conflicts around the globe.
- The organization’s objective is to use mobile apps and social media to promote peace and accountability in areas where it is needed.
- With varying reviews and comments, and financial worries to boot, the Lab struggles to stay in business.
“Fake news” is enemy number 1 not just to Facebook but also to PeaceTech Lab that’s trying to use mobile apps to develop peace-building efforts in countries like Iraq, Kenya, and Mexico where social media have often been used to promote lies and hate.
Unlike many app developers, PeaceTech Lab is focused mainly on finding solutions for areas where violent conflicts occur. Its manpower is composed of activists and engineers, MBAs and violent conflicts experts, social and data scientists and other innovators.
President and CEO Sheldon Himelfarb said that PeaceTech Lab aims to develop “technology that can be applied to tackle the triggers of violence,” in an interview at the lab’s Washington headquarters at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The lab has already partnered with people and organizations around the world to promote its vision.
It has supported the development of an online map in Iraq that displays attacks on journalists and activists. The organization also worked with reporter Jorge Luis Sierra in Mexico to build an app that evaluates the risks journalists face and then offers security advice. And in Kenya, the lab worked with the startup Ushahidi to provide a service that checks facts via text messaging.
Ben Larned, the development and communication coordinator of the Washington-based Iraq Foundation, considered the lab’s work “a very successful project,” and called PeaceTech staff as “passionate activists and pioneers in utilizing technology to improve civil society in Iraq.”
Tom Lowenthal, staff technologist at the Committee to Protect Journalists was not impressed with the lab’s attempts to keep reporters safe. He pointed out that “None of the information I was given on a few simulated run-throughs was particularly tailored, specific or actionable.”
The lab has more experience than most with fake news. “We’re calling it fake news today, but it’s been going on in conflict zones forever,” Himelfarb said. “News that was not reliable and accurate was absolutely a contributing factor. Just trying to swarm recipients with other messaging is not sufficient. We need to invest more in actually understanding the vocabulary.”
It started tracking social-media posts in and about South Sudan and found out most of the hate-speech posts came from emigrants in the U.S. and elsewhere.
To counter online hate speeches, the lab works with broadcasters who are doing solid journalism.
The lab faces business disruption in Trump’s proposed cut in peacekeeping and diplomacy budget for 2018. With financial worries, the lab got “very significant” backing from Amazon and IBM.