WASHINGTON (Techonomy) — Developers, activists, and journalists gathered in a Washington startup incubator on a recent weekend for “FreedomHack,” to build digital products to aid citizen journalists in Mexico. Reporters Without Borders reports that a skyrocketing number of them have been killed, attacked, or threatened in Mexico since 2010.
One kind of program that could be useful to reporters in violent areas who are operating under oppressive regimes is one created by Dlshad Othman, the event’s keynote speaker. An exiled Syrian activist, Othman has personally aided more than 11,000 people by deactivating e-mail and Facebook accounts to keep governments from getting their hands on journalists’ data.
His product, Virtus Linux, launches this September, and was built through an analysis of Syrian Internet monitoring systems. It is an encrypted operating system that supports three languages – English, Arabic, and Kurdish – and lets citizen journalists and activists freely search the Web, upload content, and send messages. It currently has more than 1,500 users.
The “hack for good” event was organized by Washington-based tech startups CommunityRED, which delivers secure technology solutions to citizen journalists globally, along with the freelance journalists’ network Cont3nt.com. Event partner Amnesty International contributed resources to help developers understand the plight of colleagues in Mexico.
“We’re tapping into a community of people who want to do good, which shouldn’t surprise anyone in this city,” said a weary-eyed Shauna Dillavou, director of CommunityRED, who stayed overnight in the incubator to assist hackathon teams. One challenge was that developers and activists speak different professional “languages.” Overcoming that barrier, she said, enabled developers to better cater products to the activists’ needs.
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