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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora