In the 20 odd years I’ve been a journalist, technological advances have massively impacted how reporting happens.
When I started at the Warsaw Business Journal in Poland around 2002, email was still a novelty. There was no convention for listing contact details online (so you had to work hard to get people’s numbers). And cigarette breaks were a crucial mechanism for extracting valuable information from sources.
Working the phones or meeting people face-to-face was also the general newsroom norm.
These days finding the people you want to connect with is so much easier. Almost everyone is discoverable online.
And yet something is being lost.
One big risk with so many stories being sourced and verified almost exclusively online is that you cannot always be sure that the people reaching out to you are who they say they are. A false impression of credibility is too easy to create with digital tools.
Online sourcing tools can also lead to a narrowing of perspectives, the development of echo chambers and broader journalistic feedback loops.
The scale of digital paper trails, meanwhile, can intimidate legitimate sources from whistleblowing about institutional bad practice or making “first contact” with journalists in the first place.
Yes there’s encrypted PGP keys to help protect identities. But for the vast majority of individuals, learning how to properly encrypt a communication still isn’t intuitive or easy.
There is a secondary problem to consider for journalists too. Being too open to anonymous contacts can leave reporters exposed to wild goose chases, manipulation or spam.
To combat this, journalists need a low resource mechanism that can allow them to receive high quality tips in a secure way, but also to screen and eliminate time wasters or potential manipulators.
Our partnership with the HaYa platform
HaYa is a startup I believe can help move things in the right direction. It allows institutions to engage in live chats with anonymous users. But what’s really different about HaYa is that from a user’s perspective it’s as easy as scanning a QR code using your device’s camera.
It’s important to stress HaYa is not 100 per cent anonymous but rather 100 per cent incognito. As HaYa chat app doesn’t require a profile, phone number or email address to register, there is no identifiable information that can be passed on when connecting to an organisation.
This format gives the user of the app the reassurance and confidence to connect to an organisation without fear of being traced or having their chat attributed to them.
Nonetheless, from a journalist’s point of view, the advantage still stands. By allowing reporters to easily spark a two-way conversation with any tipster, in a way that can also be supported with proofs like photos, documents or other files, the quality of the source can be stress tested efficiently. If the source passes the initial tests, the journalist can move on to more complex verification mechanisms.
But there’s more to HaYa than just journalistic use.
HaYa Chat app also allows for anonymous group discussions for up to 100 members, so those who are concerned about broader industry bad practice can gather in discrete online meeting rooms in incognito mode to discuss what can be done. They can find each other by posting or passing around QR codes/burner codes in places they know they might be picked up. Chatroom access can also be controlled via access requests, after scanning the QR code or using the burner code, and subsequent authorisation by the administrator. They can be themed by industry, topic or other.
But anonymity can be a double edged sword too. To guard against more malicious use, anonymity on HaYa is purposefully layered.
Participants shouldn’t be worried, however, that with a great deal of effort law enforcement authorities might be able to match real-world phone identities to burner pseudonyms. If the conversations happening in these chambers have a legitimate social benefit to play, western laws protect their right to have them.
The app is there primarily to help those who can recognise bad practice but are fearful of speaking out due to recrimination, institutional bullying or the fear of losing jobs. It’s about helping concerned individuals discover if there are broader communities who feel the same way and creating safe spaces for them to discuss the issues of concern.
I’ve promised to be fully transparent with The Blind Spot, so it feels right to report that I have no vested or commercial interest in HaYa. I simply see the tool as very beneficial to journalistic practice. Both myself and the app’s founder, Frank di Mauro, are in start-up mode, which means we can do with the mutual support. Frank gets promotion, I get to draw on his much broader technical skills and enterprise access to the app.
We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance who could see our agendas were aligned.
To check out the functionality of the HaYa platform for your own use go to https://hayaplatform.com/.
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