Allô Place Beauvau tracks events of police violence against the Yellow Vests movement in France. Each case is first reported to the Twitter account of freelance journalist David Dufresne, which is then automatically integrated into a database that generates an immediately updated datavisualization. Each case is documented (photos, videos, medical certificates, complaints). This database is then deployed on the Mediapart investigation site and offers several levels of readings: a collection of maps, a database by type of injury caused, type of weapon, location, law enforcement involved.
After a month of underground work, Allô Place Beauvau has truly made the news in France, forcing the media, politicians and NGOs to break out of their silence. The datavisualization, thanks to its graphic strength and continuous updates, has largely contributed to the success of the project. The Twitter account of the journalist behind the project, David Dufresne, went from 14,000 followers to 81,000 in one year. The monthly impressions of his tweets, which amounted to a few tens of thousands in November 2018, have risen to several million. From January 2019 to January 2020, the website Allô Place Beauvau reached 400k+ unique visitors.
On the political level, the project leader of Allô Place Beauvau was heard:
– in Paris, on 28 January 2019, by Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, for her report of 26 February 2019 (report);
– in Strasbourg, at the European Parliament on 13 February 2019, where he was invited to give a press conference (video, interview);
– in Paris, on February 20, 2019, by the Senate Law Commission, which wanted to table a law against the use of certain weapons in law enforcement (source).
His work was also quoted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on 6 March 2019 (source).
In terms of media coverage, the Allô Place Beauvau project has received extreme attention from almost all French media (television, radio, print media), as well as from the US (New York Times), English (The Guardian), Canadian (Radio Canada), Swiss (RTS), Italian and Spanish press.
Allô Place Beauvau became the Grand Prix du Journalisme 2019 at the French Assises internationales du Journalisme.
The project being based on current events, happening every week, and the amount of reports to handle being tremendous, we needed a platform that could be used by multiple people at the same time to access, verify, de-duplicate and enrich the database of reports. We chose to use Airtable for this.
The starting point for each report is a tweet by @davduf, so we built scripts that automatically retrieve the latest tweets and append them to the Airtable. We developed other scripts to parse the content of the tweets and extract as much data as possible (date, city, weapons used…). Then, the contributors were able to manually add more info, such as first name, age and description of the victims, police forces involved, etc.
To build the website, we quickly elected to use a static site generator, for performance, security and ease of hosting. We picked Middleman which is a Ruby-based, mature tool. As Airtable provides an API for each data table, we were able to build a automated pipeline that: adds the latest tweets, enriches them, downloads the whole database from Airtable, uses this data to generate the static website, then deploys the update to the hosting platform (Netlify). The source code is hosted on Gitlab, where this publishing pipeline is automatically run every hour, thanks to Gitlab CI.
What was the hardest part of this project?
On such a sensitive subject (police violence), transparency is necessary. Readers therefore have access to both our data and working methods. Each report possesses at least one documented trace: presence of at least one video or photo, medical certificate, complaint filed, and/or reliable link (local press, etc.).
Since the project began to have success, our reports are mainly based on direct testimonies from victims, their relatives or lawyers, but also on the many testimonies and twitter alerts received by email or direct messages on Twitter. About ten Twitter users have spontaneously begun sending possible reports, and about thirty do it in a more irregular way. The @davduf twitter account has received up to 7,000 notifications per week, including a very large number of duplicates.
As the cross-checking work is particularly delicate, we have published a leaflet indicating how victims and witnesses can help us, in particular by sending copies of their medical certificates, ID papers, and as precise descriptions as possible of the circumstances, dates and places of the violence.
What can others learn from this project?
The project innovates on several levels: it is based on both urgency (violence every Saturday) and long time (six months of daily updates).
Allô Place Beauvau is based on contemporary uses of the Internet: the census is available on Twitter, with free access, and datavisualization, which provides real added value, on the Mediapart paid site. We had to develop a specific algorithm for the map layout, in order to make sure that the city labels (inferred automatically from the database) did not overlap.
Allô Place Beauvau is 80% automated, reducing the time between the event and its review.
Using open sources (mostly Twitter and Facebook videos), Allô Place Beauvau pays tribute to social networks as a possible source of information. The rigorous journalistic treatment, case by case, makes it possible to validate, or not, what is circulating there.
The questioning is of a civic, journalistic and political nature (the Place Beauvau is the seat and nickname of the Interior Ministry). At first it was aimed at breaking the silence of the media about police violence. A silence that was coupled with political denial, covering the greatest repression in 50 years, in France, of a social movement.