By Randee Iles
“Some will say we’re a little too ambitious, but look what we’re doing—it’s possible for you to do it as well.”
Three LSU students are making a ripple in the digital world before they even graduate college.
Wilborn P. Nobles III, Aryanna Prasad and Elbis Bolton received one of the eight mini-grants from the Manship School of Mass Communication’s Social Media News Challenge from the Knight Foundation for their Police Accountability mobile app.
Through this grant, students receive $4,000 to go toward their social media projects aimed at bringing news to society.
The eight categories students could apply their project to were community news, university news, Louisiana U.S. Senate election, other election, watchdog, sports, entertainment, and wild card. If a project did not fit the other categories it was under wild card.
After learning about the program two Manship students, Nobles, a print journalism senior, and Prasad, political communications and international studies junior, immediately knew they wanted to get involved. They decided to group with Bolton, software engineering senior, who was already designing a mobile app for LSU’s Reveille news website.
Their app will allow individuals to document and report both good and bad instances of police behavior. Bolton’s idea for this app was somewhat inspired by recent events like the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
“All these people are getting in trouble with police,” Bolton said, “and not all but most of them have a bad encounter with [the police], so I felt why not actually help those people voice out what their opinions are.”
The application will start out locally so they are able to keep up with it, but the group hopes their project will become national. Prasad said they would like to create a network of people.
“We want to be able to connect people who might be profiled by police with legal advocates, and that’s something that can be hyper-local,” Prasad said. “Of course we want to build up to that so it’s sustainable; it would be great to have people connect nationally, because it’s happening all over.”
Improving the System
Their project was submitted under the watchdog category. Nobles said that as journalism students, they know how important it is to hold people accountable. With so many people using social media, Nobles said he thinks this app will help hold the police accountable as well as inform the community.
The information sent through the app will first be reviewed by a content management system to make sure the claim is legitimate, especially since individuals will be allowed to report cases anonymously. After reviewed, the report will be sent to others, including newsrooms and social justice organizations.
While the application is a platform for individuals to hold police accountable and have documented evidence, Prasad said this not meant to be seen as the group saying cops are all bad, but instead they want to work with the law enforcement to better the system.
No great idea comes about without challenges, and this is true for the police accountability app. Besides keeping up with all the incoming data, the biggest challenge for the group is keeping everything legal. Whenever their app becomes more national, they will have to make some changes. For example the ability to record will have to be disabled for users in states like Massachusetts and Illinois where recording a police officer is illegal.
Being able to store the data will be assisted by the grant. Money will go toward development, including hosting, and another big portion of the funds will assist campaigning to let people know about the app.
Nobles III, Prasad and Bolton are all young adults and undergraduates, and they are aware that their knowledge is limited when it comes to what is and is not considered abuse. Nobles said they are interested in working with legal experts with experience in these types of cases.
Their age isn’t holding them back from creating a platform to help people speak out, and they hope to set an example for others as well.
“Some will say we’re a little too ambitious, but look what we’re doing—it’s possible for you to do it as well,” Nobles said. “They’re consumers but if they had the resources they could be creators also.”