Empowering a More Informed, Transparent Society with Decentralized Technology

Learn more about how MuckRock, an FFDW project partner, is leveraging the Filecoin network and IPFS to preserve public documents

At Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW), we often look at decentralized technologies from different perspectives. Most of our project partners are not native crypto or decentralized tech companies, but they are organizations with years of experience in certain fields – from academia to human rights, exploring how they can implement online decentralization to support their existing work. In an industry that’s often subject to hype, we hope these blogs profiling our partners can help shine a light on real-world use cases and how decentralized technology can help shape the web of the future – beyond just the blockchain industry.

Since 2010, Michael Morisy and his team at MuckRock have been working to solve this problem: how do we help newsrooms and leaders build trust in an age of growing misinformation?

MuckRock is a non-profit organization that enables journalists, researchers, activists, and others to request, analyze, and share government documents – making democracies more informed through information transparency. MuckRock’s award-winning work has brought stories to light about important topics, including government spending, surveillance, and public safety.

FFDW is working with MuckRock to explore how decentralized technology can support MuckRock’s preservation, publication, and analysis efforts. MuckRock is currently integrating distributed systems like the Filecoin network and IPFS, into its DocumentCloud platform, enabling the entire network to resiliently preserve critical public interest documents for the long term.

Building Trust with Transparency

At FIL Lisbon 2022, Michael Morisy sat down with Luiz Fernando Toledo, co-founder of Data Fixers and Fiquem Sabendo, to speak about how to make data transparent. Data Fixers is a journalism project that investigates environmental crimes in the Brazilian Amazon. Data Fixers has driven more than 3,000 news stories since 2019. Fiquem Sabendo is a non-profit organization committed to public transparency in Brazil. Fiquem Sabendo recently received a Gateway Grant from MuckRock to leverage DocumentCloud and the Filecoin storage network to ensure that the public can access this important information.

To kick off the discussion in Lisbon, Morisy brought up one of the tried-and-true methods of fostering transparency: freedom of information requests. More than 100 nations have freedom of information laws, which allow the general public to access data held by local, state, or federal government agencies and obligate the government to publish in the spirit of openness and transparency.

But where does it go from there? “How do you get access to those primary source materials?,” asked Morisy. “A lot of times we’re told to just trust the government or the media, but how do you make it so that you don’t just have to trust what somebody is saying, but actually make it easier to show evidence that it’s real? How do you get the government and news media to actually involve the public in their work for a more collaborative process?”

Data Fixers uses DocumentCloud to upload documents from FOIA requests and perform keyword searches to find information. The platform allows them to highlight vital information for journalists to publish stories on what’s happening in Brazil, which has led to more than 50 stories published in global outlets, including Al Jazeera, BBC, and The Washington Post. All of the original documentation that built these stories, remains on DocumentCloud to be examined and audited by the public.

MuckRock has now helped publish more than 168 million pages of primary source materials and filed more than 113,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests through their platform. And now, with the support of FFDW, MuckRock is starting to upload this information to the decentralized web via the Filecoin network. “Kind of like a social network for FOIA requests,” said Morisy.

Where the Decentralized Web Comes In

On the decentralized web, there isn’t a single point of failure – a single entity or server – that could lead to lost documents and important information. Additionally, unlike centralized networks, on the decentralized web, no single entity controls the network – it’s a network run by a distributed group of users, putting the power of data back in the hands of individuals, rather than governments or organizations. And, decentralized technology supports open development, which means that innovative projects, like MuckRock and Data Fixers, have the resources to design purpose-built applications that meet societal needs.

MuckRock’s Gateway Grants

MuckRock also recently announced the first round of Gateway Grants to bring together cutting-edge technology and at-risk document collections to model how to preserve access – despite a range of global challenges. Like Data Fixers, these projects are working to leverage the DocumentCloud platform for increased transparency, including:

  • Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) - CPI recently had 20,000 secret documents released through litigation. Using DocumentCloud, they will consolidate and permanently archive this document collection, ensuring that they are permanently accessible despite the legal challenges and ongoing natural disasters.
  • Civic Lab - CivicLab more effectively scrapes agency websites and permanently archives all the collected material detailing Tax increment Financing Districts (TIFS) through both the DocumentCloud interface and the Filecoin network.
  • The Data Liberation Project - This project is an initiative to identify, obtain, reformat, clean, document, publish, and disseminate government datasets of public interest. With the Gateway Grant, the Project will create a real-time, searchable archive of all FEMA Daily Operations Briefings through integration with DocumentCloud and Filecoin by parsing the direct housing counts from those PDFs and converting that information into a public, structured dataset.
  • Fiquem Sabendo - As the Brazilian Amazon is facing record deforestation, data from Brazil’s environment agency is limited and incomplete. Fiquem Sabendo is building out enhanced site monitoring and data extraction tools to make environment-sanction data more complete and useful.

Another round of Gateway Grants is opening soon. Sign-up for the MuckRock weekly newsletter for more details. And for more information about MuckRock or DocumentCloud, visit https://www.muckrock.com/.