Guest Post by Mark Malkoun, CEO & Co-Founder of Completure

Living in Lebanon, a country where most media outlets are politicized, my friend Emile Khattar and I wanted an unbiased and unfiltered way to get the news that was affecting our daily lives. So in early 2012, we started developing Completure, an app that enables citizens to report news as it happens directly from their own communities to the rest of the world.

Completure allows users to take photos of an incident, write a caption, and post it for public consumption. The “mini-story”, as we call it, is time-stamped and geo-tagged, so app users can see exactly when and where a story occurred. Other Completure users can then vote up or down the “newsworthiness” of a story through a geographically segmented system, which gives citizens the power to determine what is the “top news” in their community.

To prevent would-be spoilers from spreading misinformation, we developed an automatic verification system that scans photo metadata to determine whether a photo has been doctored (we can proudly say that 99% of the stories on Completure are genuine). To reach the wider audience beyond the Completure app, we also included functionality that enables users to hashtag a story with a keyword and share it via Facebook and Twitter.

Emile and I developed Completure because we wanted a way to receive and share news, but we soon found that others were very interested in – and very supportive of – what we were doing. We obtained seed funding from Berytech, a top venture capital firm in Lebanon; we presented – and won an award – at Arabnet, the biggest tech conference in the Arab world; and our work was featured in Mashable, The Next Web, and Wall Street Journal.

In late 2012, I received a phone call from Michael Baldassaro, Middle East & North Africa Program Director at Democracy International (DI). Michael said he was using Completure and thought, with a few minor modifications and the release of an Android version of the app (we had only released an iOS version at that time), it could be a very useful tool for empowering civil society and citizens to promote more credible and transparent elections.

Emile and I were intrigued by Michael’s vision for how Completure could be used to contribute to better elections. I jumped at the opportunity to present Completure at an event that DI was organizing in Tunis in early 2013, aimed at bridging the gap between civil society and technology developers in the Arab world. There I met dozens of inspiring activists dedicated to strengthening democracy, including representatives of two organizations with whom I would soon be partnering: Social Media Exchange (SMEX) and Lamba Labs.

In April 2013, Emile and I began working with SMEX and Lamba Labs on a project to empower citizens to hold election officials, political parties and candidates accountable during the upcoming Lebanon parliamentary elections. DI provided us with a grant to develop an Android version of Completure and an application programming interface (API) so that reports sent via Completure, Facebook and Twitter could be aggregated on a single reporting platform.

We worked closely with SMEX, which trained civil society organizations throughout Lebanon to empower citizens to develop community priorities for observation during the elections and crowdsource citizen reports via Completure social media. We worked with Lamba Labs, which developed a dynamic platform for aggregating, curating, and publicizing crowdsourced reports sent via Completure and social media. Unfortunately, the parliamentary elections were postponed in May 2013 and have not yet been rescheduled.

On the positive side, due to the postponement of the elections, were able to modify Completure to integrate Arabic-language functionality, maximizing accessibility for citizens in the region; improve the user interface and experience to streamline app performance; and publish a top-quality Android version of Completure, opening Completure’s doors to hundreds of millions of users worldwide. So, when parliamentary elections are held, we are ready!

For now we look forward for seeing Completure in action across the Middle East and beyond. We would love to see social improvements thanks to our technology. We want people to express themselves, show what’s right or wrong in their communities, and collectively decide what issues are pressing.

And what’s more important than elections? Citizens need to be able to know and share what’s happening in their countries during important events like elections, and that’s particularly true when they cannot rely on the mainstream media.