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WITNESS launches project to strengthen community verification and justice

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WITNESS, a human rights organisation, has announced the launch of the Fortifying Community Truth project. This project aims to equip underrepresented communities with artificial intelligence to counter media manipulation and defend human rights.

The initiative started with an intensive workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, where 17 cohort members from West and Central Africa were trained in digital verification, open-source investigation, archiving practices, and data analysis.

From May 29 to 31, 2024, the workshop provided cohort members with the foundation and tools to adopt a community-based approach to combating mis- and disinformation, including sponsored discrediting efforts.

WITNESS is an organisation that helps human rights defenders use videos to expose injustice. It coordinates with local citizens and organisations, conducts on-the-ground training, and provides free online resources in multiple languages. Its goal is to assist individuals in documenting abuses safely and using footage to create positive change in their communities.

Over the next 12 months, WITNESS will provide ongoing support as the cohort members implement projects within their communities. These projects will develop robust verification processes, develop tools, produce investigations, and establish verification hubs. The cohort will be guided by fact-checkers, journalists, technologists and narrative experts.

Nkem Agunwa, Africa Program Manager at WITNESS, highlighted the project’s focus on community-based verification. He noted that the assumption of widespread digital verification skills is a privilege not shared by most frontline defenders and journalists, whose work is often at risk of being discredited. 

“We have identified that the assumption that digital verification is a widespread skill is based on the privilege of a few and does not reflect the realities of the vast majority of frontline defenders and journalists whose work and lived experiences are under threat of being discredited. Our approach is rooted in the belief that a community-based verification process is not only effective but also empowers individuals and communities to stand firm in the face of disinformation, including government-sponsored discrediting,” he said.

Speaking further on the Fortifying Community Truth project, Georgia Edwards, Coordinator of the Video as Evidence Program at WITNESS, said the project will leverage the cohort members’ skills and knowledge to enhance the value of documentation and ensure it can be reliably used for accountability purposes.  

“By developing skills in audiovisual analysis, this project aims to leverage the cohort members’ skills and knowledge to raise the value of documentation so that they can reliably use it or others seeking accountability. Pushing back dismissals, denials or delegitimisation, communities have the power to defend their truth and should leverage their collective wisdom,” he said.

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