The Wisdom of Multiple Crowds During Critical Events

With this research we aim to understand the role of online media and platforms as people use them to report incidents during critical events. We are also developing methods and tools, like the software Aggie.

Many people and institutions are publishing online digital data at all times everywhere. Some of this data is found on social media platform. These new platforms allow users to participate in specialized, structured or formal data generation and real-time reporting, which presents opportunities for humanitarian technologies. For instance, it is newly possible to create chatbots for some of the major instant messaging platforms.

When citizens witness some critical, for example during moments of civic protest, national crisis, violent attack, or natural disaster,  they increasingly rush to their phone and use digital tools to report from the ground. This deluge of user-generated data can be harnessed towards a critical and even life-saving analysis and response.

This research project aims to understand media practices in critical events to inform the design of tool that employ multiple information sources to understand events and potentially respond to them as they unfold. Critical events may be brief, like an election, or ongoing, like hate speech. Our primary hypothesis is that tools and methods for monitoring media are more effective when they use more communication platforms and when their design reflects the different affordances and uses of each platform. We address this hypothesis through empirical case studies of Aggie deployments and the continuing design and development of Aggie. Aggie is an open source software developed in Javascript that has been used in election monitoring since 2012 and in continuous development at UNU-CS since 2016.

Our research approach seeks to understand the contour of the communication ecology in critical events and, in particular, how various communication platforms differ and interact in a communicative ecology. We draw on the theory of media ecology, which recognizes that individuals and groups use a repertoire of multiple communications behaviors within their technical, social, cultural and spatial contexts. Under this theoretical perspective, we recognize that media choices by groups and individuals reflect different layers of socio-technic affordances and that in polymedia environments the affordances of each medium are defined in relation to each other.

In 2016, we partnered with Pen Plus Bytes, Ghana, to support and study their social media monitoring initiative for their country elections. Early results point to the increasing importance of mobile instant messaging.

Social Media, Instant Messaging, Election Monitoring, Hate Speech, Aggie, Cross-media

Michael BestKarthik BhatAndrés Moreno

Click here to download a short document with research details about the project.


This project is part of the Digital Peace Lab and the Small Data Lab.
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