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Nobody has come to help us yet

Presentation for Digital Sociology Mini conference 2016
Femke Mulder Free University Amserdam

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Nobody has come to help us yet

  1. 1. Disasters & Online Empowerment In the spring of 2015, Nepal was hit by two large earthquakes. Close to 9000 people died and over half a million people became homeless…
  2. 2. Extreme events = disasters? Only if you lack the resources to bounce back or adapt…. Disasters are products of the social order, not just the results of geophysical extremes The co-development of societies with their environments lead to specific patterns of vulnerability… some groups are less able to prepare for or cope with extreme events
  3. 3. Humanitarians aim to target those most in need “regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind” Disasters as opportunities for change Established power structures (partially) collapse Humanitarian actors (re)negotiate their national and local positions of power vis a vis established power structures Red Cross Code of Conduct, signed by 587 humanitarian organizations Hundreds of humanitarian actors become active – they are coordinated by the national government, or the United Nations
  4. 4. Disasters as opportunities for change In the liminal period after a disaster social divisions become less marked – people experience a sense of community… Possibility to forge enduring ties and connections between different social groups
  5. 5. Crises as Catalysts for Online Empowerment Social media can facilitate the development of networks of cooperation and communication between formal responders, responding communities and groups requiring aid*, potentially linking up marginalized groups – building their social capital *these different groups overlap
  6. 6. Social media crisis data could help formal responders target those most in need - Marginalized communities are sometimes absent from official data sets - Carrying out independent assessments can take weeks
  7. 7. Accessing and sharing crisis data (online) improves situational awareness - Makes community self-help more effective - Enables communities to broadcast their needs to the wider world - Allows communities to coordinate their efforts with those of formal responders
  8. 8. Sociotechnical difficulties prevent formal responders from using social media data • Data constitutes a ‘poor organizational fit’ • Concerns about the reliability of social media data • Responders fall back on established data routines due to time pressure
  9. 9. Crowdsourcing crisis data • Organized through community platforms • Mediators connect formal responders with online volunteers • Using ‘the crowd’ to triangulate information ‘live’ crisis data sets developed by global digital volunteers and local affected people Screenshot “Mission 4636” run on the Ushahidi Platform
  10. 10. Marginalized communities face barriers that prevent them from contributing to – or accessing – online crisis data Multiple cyberspaces – barriers to access • Access to ICT equipment and working infrastructure • Literacy and digital literacy • Virtual divides: cyberspaces are language and culture dependent • Social capital: access to information about the existence of online crisis platforms Barriers
  11. 11. Screenshot of QuakeMap: most crisis reports came from and were about digitally literate Kathmandu Valley; not the worst hit regions Crowdsourcing crisis data in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal
  12. 12. Connecting offline communities to the web • Code for Nepal combined a low-tech digital approach with community focal points • Mobile Citizens Helpdesks combined an ICT based approach with in- person visits
  13. 13. But inequalities that are the legacy of the old social order pose barriers to empowerment… Disasters provide opportunities for new empowering social practices to take hold that challenge the old status quo… Social media may only further ‘empower the empowered’ if marginalized groups can’t access or contribute to online crisis data
  14. 14. Thank you! @Femke_Mulder_VU f.mulder@vu.nl http://disastergovernance.info