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Humanitarianism, Communications and Change


Simon Cottle and Glenda Cooper

Humanitarianism, Communications and Change is the first book to explore humanitarianism in today’s rapidly changing media and communications environment. Based on the latest academic thinking alongside a range of professional, expert and insider views, the book brings together some of the most authoritative voices in the field today. It examines how the fast-changing nature of communications throws up new challenges but also new possibilities for humanitarian relief and intervention. It includes case studies deployed in recent humanitarian crises, and significant new communication developments including social media, crisis mapping, SMS alerts, big data and new hybrid communications. And against the backdrop of an increasingly globalized and threat-filled world, the book explores how media and communications, both old and new, are challenging traditional relations of communication power.
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Chapter Fifteen: Big Data and Humanitarian Response


← 210 | 211 → CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Big Data and ­Humanitarian Response


The overflow of information generated during disasters can be as paralyzing to humanitarian response as the absence of information. This overflow, “Big Data” (or Big Crisis Data), is driven by the massive volume of user-generated content publicly shared on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Recent empirical studies demonstrate that some of this content is directly relevant, informative, and even actionable for humanitarian response purposes. In other words, social media can accelerate the assessment of disaster damage and needs during disasters. The challenge, however, is that only a very small fraction of user-generated content presently adds to situational awareness. But this content could potentially be life-saving information. During Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, for example, barely ~0.25% of the quarter-of-a-million tweets posted during the first 72 hours were informative and/or actionable. While this seems insignificant, 0.25% represents more than 600 geo-tagged tweets, or more than 60,000 words of relevant and timely information for disaster responders. Of the 5,000+ images posted to Twitter, only ~3.5% captured infrastructure damage cause by the Typhoon—but this still represents 180 individual geo-tagged pictures available in real-time. So identifying this content is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack—the growing stack of information generated during disasters.

Assuming that one person was tasked with reviewing each of the 250,000+ tweets, it would have taken that person well over...

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