The 'Lucy' Project

Luis Daniel Palacios Morton

The 'Lucy' Project is a citizen reporting and news aggregating platform for people to anonymously report crime. The web app provides user-generated information on current events while simultaneously parsing information into a publicly accessible database.

Much has been said lately about the use of technology by the Mexican netizens against organized crime. Most recently, several research papers have analyzed the emergence of 'civic curators' who donate much of their time curating reports on violence and tweeting about them. These people have audiences in the tens of thousands, and for many they are a valuable source of information as they receive warnings about risk situations that could potentially put their lives in danger. Additionally, several bloggers in Mexico have for some time now established themselves as reliable sources of information. Blogs, such as Blog Del Narco receive over 3 million views per month. These Twitterers and bloggers are not alone. Many Mexicans contribute using other social media channels like Facebook, and Youtube. Much of the emergence of these civic reporters comes from a need for information that the Mexican authorities have not been able to provide. Research on the conflict itself is very common. One notable example is a research conducted by a Harvard graduate student, Viridiana Rios. Rios was able to programmatically scrape thousands of news articles while searching for specific keywords. With her results she was able to map the geographical spread of the different cartels in Mexico. By analyzing the spread of the cartels across the country, she was able to determine certain behaviors specific to each cartel. To my knowledge (and to hers too, since she says so), there has been no other similar research conducted, mainly because the data that is required is not available. Her research was made possible by a complicated program that for a long period of time, searched for key words on the internet. My hope is that by creating this database, concerned netizens will be able to report violence anonymously while simultaneously creating a machine-readable database that would allow researchers like Rios to easily conduct further research.

This project is actually a web app. The website provides easy forms for people to submit information anonymously. The web app is written in Python using the Tornado web framework, and the database is a MongoDB database. The website is hosted by Heroku. The site allows people to perform five different tasks independent of each other. The tasks are submitting a link to a news report, tagging locations from a given report, tagging dates, eliminating duplicates, and finally filling out the details of a given report. Every answer submitted has to be validated by consensus. This means that different people have to the same information 3 times for the information to be considered true.