News

    Technologists Look to Improve Uses of Social Media During Crises

    Nico Colombant

    Technologists, government workers and activists are trying to find ways to improve the use of so-called crowd-sourced information during times of environmental and political crisis. Many lag far behind what businesses are already doing.

    A research fellow with the U.S. Geological Survey, Sophia Liu, has been giving talks at government agencies and policy think tanks, trying to give them a wake-up call on the importance of using information coming through social media.

    Monday, her talk was at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She said the corporate world has already understood the importance of crowd-sourced information to shape their actions.

    "They are profiting off of this," noted Liu. "They are engaging in a lot of strategic marketing efforts of using crowd-sourced data for their profit, so in the emergency management area we really need to get up to speed, we have so much work to do."

    She said that generally, the military has been an exception within the government, reacting quickly to and deciphering the importance of information coming through social media.

    Misinformation


    One common criticism is that it is difficult to gauge the accuracy of the information on websites like the micro-blogging platform Twitter.

    Following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, relief organizations said their responders struggled with many exaggerated or false reports coming through social media, which diverted their aid operations.

    Liu brushed off this type of criticism, saying information can also often be wrong when it comes from so-called authoritative sources, such as government agencies or media.

    "We are making a lot of assumptions that even authoritative data is correct information, and it is typically not up-to-date or real-time, so there are trade-offs to any kind of information," she said.

    Data deluge

    The U.S. Geological Survey has recently been using Twitter to both alert people about possible earthquakes as well as immediately monitor users who believe they are detecting an earthquake.  

    Liu stressed the importance of fine-tuning so-called curation methods, in order to "survive the data deluge" and be able to effectively use the growing quantity of citizen information as it makes itself available.  

    Juliana Rotich, the co-founder of Ushahidi, a non-profit technology company that specializes in crisis crowd-sourced information, has also been promoting the importance of using this type of data more efficiently.

    "It is 2012. A lot of information is real-time," said Rotich. "A lot of citizens are breaking news. It presents an opportunity for us to actually say this is what is going on, and this is how we can prevent it."

    Ushahidi came about in the wake of the violence in Kenya in 2007 and 2008 that followed a divisive election. Rotich says she came up with the idea when she noticed there was a gap between what media were reporting and what people in Kenya were experiencing.

    Security

    At another recent event in Washington, Rotich touched on the importance of protecting the identity of those giving information during a political or security crisis.

    She referred to SSL, which stands for Secure Sockets Layer. This encrypts data to obtain confidential user information.

    "The first thing we can do is use SSL encryption on the website, which Ushahidi has done. However, that is just only a base on which the activists can build upon," she said. "They posted a practical guide on how to communicate safely using tools like Tor, which is an anonymizing software that enables you to report and for your Internet Protocol address not to be associated with the report that you put in."

    But she warned advances in technology and crowd-sourced data only help in dealing with a crisis. She said the most important facets remain having a community, both local and international, to identify and respond to a crisis, and then having the commitment to help those affected.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora