Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Maps, the Power of the Crowd and Big Data Verification

On 17 September, I was invited by the European Journalism Centre (EJC) to attend the PICNIC Festival 2012 at the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam, where they hosted an entire session entitled “Maps, the Power of the Crowd, and Big Data Verification.”  This session focused on the crucial role of crowdsourced information in humanitarian emergencies. With this event, the Centre wanted to address issues related to the verification of data collected via crowdsourcing and social media, and the potential role of traditional media in this process. 

The EJC session consisted of four presentations and panel discussions on different aspects of data gathering and visualization like maps, crowdsourcing, and data verification. The first session, entitled “The Changing Society and Media Ownership,” was led by EJC Director Wilfried Ruetten and had some incredibly knowledgeable speakers like LSE Polis Director Charlie Beckett and Storyful Editorial Director David Clinch. The discussion revolved around the social and political changes that traditional news outlets are facing due to the influence of new technologies and social media, and how the combination of new technologies, public participation and traditional journalist skills can actually help in creating better journalism.  Interestingly, both speakers seemed to agree that the future of traditional media lies in the combination of traditional journalism skills with social media skills, shifting away from the focus on product creation towards an emphasis on a collaborative creation process. 

This panel discussion was followed by my presentation on “Crowdsourced Mapping and Verification in Humanitarian Response.” In this presentation, I introduced the audience to crisis mapping and its components, and highlighted the latest developments in this field. I explained how crisis mapping has been used in the context of humanitarian emergencies, and discussed the challenges for all actors involved in the collection, use, and verification of crowdsourced information.

See the video of my presentation here:

I was also asked to serve as a moderator on the third pannel entited “Crisis Mapping – Best Practices," where Helena Puig Larrauri (Co-Founder of the Standby Task Force (SBTF)), Harry Wood (Board of Directors, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT)), and I discussed the issue of verification when it comes to crowdsourcing projects that use volunteers to gather and process data in the context of humanitarian emergencies.  Helena described the work of the Standby Volunteer Task Force, a network of volunteers that support humanitarian organizations in creating, managing and populating crisis maps, as well as in processing information coming from social media, to allow responders and decision makers to respond more effectively and rapidly to humanitiarian crisis. Harry explained how the work of OpenStreetMap (the Wikipedia of maps) to create baseline maps can be extremely beneficial to humanitarian responders on the ground if used in combination with other kinds of data (a very good example of this is the incredible effort put forward by the OSM community during the Haiti earthquake to assist emergency responders on the ground). During the panel discussion, I asked Helena and Harry to talk about the importance of verifying crowdsourced information in a crisis situation, considering the risks associated with the distributions of false information both to responders and to beneficiaries.  Both of them explained OSM and SBTF's processes for verifying information, and how this verification process can in fact be crowdsourced itself. 

The last session, “Verifying Crowdsourced Information – Journalists as Curators,” featured Matthew Eltringham, Founding Editor of the BBC UGC Hub, Erik van Heeswijk, Digital Editor-in-Chief of VPRO, David Clinch, Editorial Director of Storyful, and Charlie Beckett, Director of LSE Polis. The panel was an incredible discussion on how user-generated content can be used both by traditional news outlets such as the BBC or new types of media initiatives like Storyful. What emerged in this panel was the extreme importance of context and analysis, as well as the incredible value that traditional journalism offers in terms of applying traditional media techniques (like investigative journalisms) to new media. In this context, all panelists agreed that the rise of social media is an opportunity for journalists to turn user-generated content into high-quality news sources. However, this would require traditional media players to not only appreciate the important role that social media is playing in today's information landscape, but further accept that leveraging new media is a new role that they need to create for themselves.