At its inaugural, annual Hackathon over the weekend, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) gathered together members of Prague’s digital and journalistic communities for a 24-hour marathon session to devise digital tools to strengthen the impact of independent media.
Entitled “Innovation for Independent Media,” the Hackathon, peaking at 93 participants, attracted over 54 coders, digital designers, and journalists to develop tools in three categories: countering disinformation, combatting censorship, and promoting informed and open debate. A panel of industry experts judged the event, and numerous IT and outreach professionals attended to provide workshops and mentoring.
“This was a terrific moment for RFE/RL and the Czech community that hosts us,” said RFE/RL President Jamie Fly. “The Hackathon brought together some incredibly committed people to collaborate in support of information and journalistic integrity, and brought RFE/RL’s relationship with Prague to a new level.”
The jury awarded first prize to a project titled Trend Eintopf that helps verify Twitter trends quickly to determine if they are legitimate or artificially created by bots. The tool is a web application that enables users to enter Twitter hashtags and receive aggregate trend statistics generated by artificial intelligence. Second prize was awarded to a project called Nudge, which addresses the fact that 11% of comments on the Internet are offensive. The tool uses a customizable discussion plug-in that recites the proposed comments back to the user, giving a “nudge” to think twice, and uses real data to learn and generate nudges that are most effective.
The third-place project, called 4words, seeks to help users circumvent censorship through a blockchain app that allows them to securely distribute messages to a wide audience. A prize sponsored by the online mapping platform Mapbox tackled the challenge of verifying and analyzing widely disparate information about the relationship between environmental impact and human activity. The tool, entitled Hidden Impact, uses big data to correlate geographically specific environmental phenomena and social trends over time.
Vojtech Tuma, Big Data Team Leader at Avast Software, who participated in the Hackathon, said the “key thing” about the event was that it “managed to bring in a very diverse set of participants – developers, journalists, data people, designers – and you could see…how teams benefited from influxes and minglings of ideas and distinct points of view."
Pete Baumgartner, an RFE/RL senior editor on the Central Newsroom's Asia Desk who was on the jury, said, “It was amazing how these small teams of five were able to come up with such innovative ideas and then create a usable product in a 24-hour period.”
The Hackathon’s prize partners were WebExpo, Mapbox, Agenturaxact, and Octopus. Event partners were Microsoft, Mews, SvetNoziskovek, Czechstartups.org, Prgcont.cz, startupweekend, techstars, Prague Media Point, and HubHub, which provided the venue. CzechCrunch was a media partner.
RFE/RL’s Prague Hackathon was the first of several that it is organizing in its coverage region to support journalistic innovation and engage local communities.
RFE/RL, headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic, relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to 34 million people in 26 languages and 22 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 2.6 billion times on Facebook and YouTube in FY2018. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.