How Crowdsourced Disaster Response in China Threatens the Government
In 2010, Russian volunteers used social media and a live crisis map to crowdsource their own disaster relief efforts as massive forest fires ravaged the country. These efforts were seen by many as both more effective and visible than the government’s response. In 2011, Egyptian volunteers used social media to crowdsource their own humanitarian convoy to provide relief to Libyans affected by the fighting. In 2012, Iranians used social media to crowdsource and coordinate grassroots disaster relief operations following a series of earthquakes in the north of the country. Just weeks earlier, volunteers in Beijing crowd-sourced a crisis map of the massive flooding in the city. That map was immediately available and far more useful than the government’s crisis map. In early 2013, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Southwest China, killing close to 200 and injuring more than 13,000. The response, which was also crowdsourced by volunteers using social media and mobile phones, actually posed a threat to the Chinese Government.
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Aided by social media and mobile phones, grassroots disaster response efforts present a new and more poignant “Dictator’s Dilemma” for repressive regimes. The original Dictator’s Dilemma refers to an authoritarian government’s competing interest in using information communication technology by expanding access to said technology while seeking to control the democratizing influences of this technology. In contrast, the “Dictator’s Disaster Lemma” refers to a repressive regime confronted with effectively networked humanitarian response at the grassroots level, which improves collective action and activism in political contexts as well. But said regime cannot prevent people from helping each other during natural disasters as this could backfire against the regime.
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Yesterday’s Visualizing 400ppm Carbon Dioxide showed before/after coastline maps of what we can expect given the carbon we have already put into the atmosphere. All of Delaware and Maryland’s eastern shore disappear, Florida south of Gainesville goes for a swim, and the San Francisco Bay reaches Sacramento.
The effects in Indochina and neighboring Bangladesh are even more profound. Yangon, Myanmar (4.4M), Bangkok, Thailand (8.3M), Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (7.5M), and Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2.3M) will all be submerged if the increase is only 20M and historically we should expect more like 25M at that level of CO2.
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Social Media and the Emergence of Open-Source Geospatial Intelligence
We have just finished a paper entitled ‘Social Media and the Emergence of Open-Source Geospatial Intelligence’ for Socio-Cultural Dynamics and Global Security. For those interested below is the abstract:
The emergence of social media has provided the public with an effective and irrepressible real-time mechanism to broadcast information. The great popularity of platforms such as twitter and YouTube, and the substantial amount of content that is communicated through them are making social media an essential component of open-source intelligence. The information communicated through such feeds conveys the interests and opinions of individuals, and reveals links and the complex structure of social networks.
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However, this information is only partially exploited if one does not consider its geographical aspect. Indeed, social media feeds more often than not have some sort of geographic content, as they may communicate the location from where a particular report is contributed, the geolocation of an image, or they may refer to a specific sociocultural hotspot. By harvesting this geographic content from social media feeds we can transfer the extracted knowledge from the amorphous cyberspace to the geographic space, and gain a unique understanding of the human lansdscape, its structure and organization, and its evolution over time. This new-found opportunity signals the emergence of open-source geospatial intelligence, whereby social media contributions can be analyzed and mined to gain unparalleled situational awareness. In this paper we showcase a number of sample applications that highlight the capabilities of harvesting geospatial intelligence from social media feeds, focusing particularly on twitter as a representative data source.
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Jointly: Peer-to-Peer Disaster Recovery App
My colleague Samia Kallidis is launching a brilliant self-help app to facilitate community-based disaster recovery efforts. Samia is an MFA Candidate at the School of Visual Arts in New York. While her work on this peer-to-peer app began as part of her thesis, she has since been accepted to the NEA Studio Incubator Program to make her app a reality. NEA provides venture capital to help innovative entrepreneurs build transformational initiatives around the world. So huge congrats to Samia on this outstanding accomplishment. I was already hooked back in February when she presented her project at NYU and am even more excited now. Indeed, there are exciting synergies with the MatchApp project I’m working on with QCRI and MIT-CSAIL , which is why we’re happily exploring ways to collaborate & complement our respective initiatives.
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Social Media for Emergency Management: Question of Supply and Demand
I’m always amazed by folks who dismiss the value of social media for emergency management based on the perception that said content is useless for disaster response. In that case, libraries are also useless (bar the few books you’re looking for, but those rarely represent more than 1% of all the books available in a major library). Does that mean libraries are useless? Of course not. Is social media useless for disaster response? Of course not. Even if only 0.001% of the 20+ million tweets posted during Hurricane Sandy were useful, and only half of these were accurate, this would still mean over 1,000 real-time and informative tweets, or some 15,000 words—i.e., the equivalent of a 25-page, single-space document exclusively composed of fully relevant, actionable & timely disaster information.
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Introducing MicroMappers for Digital Disaster Response
The UN activated the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) on December 3, 2012 to carry out a rapid damage needs assessment in response to Typhoon Pablo in the Philippines. More specifically, the UN requested that Digital Humanitarians collect and geo-reference all tweets with links to pictures or video footage capturing Typhoon damage. To complete this mission, I reached out to my colleagues at CrowdCrafting. Together, we customized a microtasking app to filter, classify and geo-reference thousands of tweets. This type of rapid damage assessment request was the first of its kind, which means that setting up the appropriate workflows and technologies took a while, leaving less time for the tagging, verification and analysis of the multimedia content pointed to in the disaster tweets. Such is the nature of innovation; optimization takes place through iteration and learning.
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Over the last couple of months we have been working on getting our GeoSocial Gauge system up and running. The idea behind the website is to bring together social media and geographical analysis to monitor and explore people’s views, reactions, and interactions through space and time. It takes advantage of the emergence of social media to observe the human landscape as the living, breathing organism that it is: we can witness the explosion-like dissemination of information within a society, or the clusters of individuals who share common opinions or attitudes, and map the locations of these clusters. This is an unprecedented development that broadens drastically our understanding of the way that people act, react to events, and interact with each other and with their environment. We refer to this novel approach to study the integration of geography and society as GeoSocial Analysis.
The GeoSocial Gauge has several live streams ranging from exploring the political issues (e.g. Sequester) to to see what people are tweeting about TV (The Walking Dead).
Phi Beta Iota: Some very interesting spontaneous combustion is happening, with convergence slow but sure to come.
DuckDuckGo / Crisis Mapping
DuckDuckGo / Patrick Meier
Google launches global hotline to combat human trafficking
Humanitarianism in the Network Age: Groundbreaking Study
My colleagues at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have just published a groundbreaking must-read study on Humanitarianism in the Network Age; an important and forward-thinking policy document on humanitarian technology and innovation. The report “imagines how a world of increasingly informed, connected and self-reliant communities will affect the delivery of humanitarian aid. Its conclusions suggest a fundamental shift in power from capital and headquarters to the people [that] aid agencies aim to assist.” The latter is an unsettling prospect for many. To be sure, Humanitarianism in the Network Age calls for “more diverse and bottom-up forms of decision-making—something that most Governments and humanitarian organizations were not designed for. Systems constructed to move information up and down hierarchies are facing a new reality where information can be generated by any-one, shared with anyone and acted by anyone.”
The purpose of this blog post (available as a PDF) is to summarize the 120-page OCHA study. In this summary, I specifically highlight the most important insights and profound implications. I also fill what I believe are some of the report’s most important gaps. I strongly recommend reading the OCHA publication in full, but if you don’t have time to leaf through the study, reading this summary will ensure that you don’t miss a beat. Unless otherwise stated, all quotes and figures below are taken directly from the OCHA report.
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Automatically Extracting Disaster-Relevant Information from Social Media
My team and I at QCRI have just had this paper (PDF) accepted at the World Wide Web (WWW 2013) conference in Rio next month. The paper relates directly to our Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response (AIDR) project. One of our main missions at QCRI is to develop open source and freely available next generation humanitarian technologies to better manage Big (Crisis) Data. Over 20 million tweets and half-a-million Instagram pictures were posted during Hurricane Sandy, for example. In Japan, more 2,000 tweets were posted every second the day after the devastating earthquake and Tsunami struck the Eastern Coast. Recent empirical studies have shown that an important percentage of tweets posted during disaster are informative and even actionable. The challenge before is how to find those proverbial needles in the haystack and to do so in as close to real-time as possible.
So we analyzed disaster tweets posted during Hurricane Sandy (2012) and the Joplin Tornado (2011). We demonstrate that disaster-relevant information can be automatically extracted from these datasets. The results indicate that 40% to 80% of tweets that contain disaster-related information can be automatically detected. We also demonstrate that we can correctly identify the type of disaster information 80% to 90% of the time. Because these classifiers are developed using machine learning, they get more accurate with more data. This explains why we are building AIDR. Our aim is not to replace human involvement and oversight but to significantly lessen the load on humans.
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