Big heading saying "What are you guilty of" Trial by Timeline

Sentenced on Facebook

October 27, 2012

Originally posted on Computerworld

Amnesty International is launching a Facebook application that will illustrate to users of the social media site how their posts could see them tortured, imprisoned or even killed in other countries.

The application, called Trial By Timeline, scans a person’s Facebook page and determines what crimes they might have committed in other countries simply through listing their occupation, gender, relationship status or liking posts that an oppressive regime may deem offensive. The application then lists what the punishment for that ‘crime’ is likely to be in particular countries.

Amnesty IT manager Vivian Chandra says the application is part of a new branding for the organisation, which has the tagline ‘Protect the Human’. The idea is to show New Zealand Facebook users what it’s like to live in countries where even joining the social media site is a crime. The app also pretends to interrogate a person’s Facebook friends, in order to provide “a very real level of creepiness”, says Chandra.

When the app has finished scanning the Facebook page it summarises the crimes and punishments that have been ‘committed’ by the user, who can then tweet the summary. The app can be easily removed through the account setting menu on the Facebook home page.

Trial by Timeline is being developed by advertising agency Colenso BBDO, and has been six months in development says digital creative director Dan Wright.

“Somebody in the building had the wonderful idea of taking all of the things that we do on Facebook and showing how incriminating they would be in other places,” says Wright.

While the idea is great, developing the application has proven to be “really hard”.

“The challenges come in the sheer volume to information. For example the research that we’ve done on what’s punishable through what means and what countries, either by the government or by civilians gets really long, really fast,” Wright says.

“You’re talking about 60-70 countries, up to 100 or so different crimes with slightly different punishments. Then to process all of that, scanning Facebook for things that people have said in their status, comments on other people’s pages, as well as pages they’ve liked, which is often in the hundreds.”

The application is built on MYSQL and PHP, and the system is designed to be more efficient the longer it runs. “Each time it searches someone’s profile it tries to get a little more efficient by flagging pages they might have liked that seemed incriminating.”

The front end is built on HTML5 and CSS3 and the animations have been created by Assembly. All the services, include web hosting by Xplain Hosting, have been offered to Amnesty International for free.

“We give our time to Amnesty, as most of their suppliers do, because it’s a cause we believe in and working in advertising, it’s a nice thing to do,” Wright says.

The application can be found at

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