Crowdsourcing the monitoring of human rights violations

Much attention recently has been paid to how the proliferation of cheaper technologies has enabled crowdsourced monitoring and crisis mapping through organizations and platforms like the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF), Ushahidi and Lord’s Resistance Army Crisis Tracker.

Contributing to this debate, Todd Landman and Jonathan Crook, both from the University of Essex, are scheduled to present a paper on the Democratization of Technology and Conflict Analysis at the forthcoming Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, which will focus on the Politics of International Diffusion: Regional and Global Dimensions, (San Francisco, California, April 3-6, 2013).

The paper “outlines the main developments in new technology that can assist conflict researchers and analysts in mapping conflict patterns, behaviours, and networks from open source data”. Importantly,the authors indicate that despite the growth in big data and technological sensors…

“The need for subjective human contribution is likely to remain and hopefully beyond the time of technological singularity when the cognitive abilities of a computer surpass those of a human many times over. For human rights communities, the absolute requirement for accuracy of information seemingly does not sit well with large scale automated processes and places further emphasis upon having trained and empowered personnel involved in the process of information management and exploitation, as well as in the legal categories and vocabularies associated with human rights”.

They subsequently explain how they developed a Human Rights Violations Portal by using  software that scraped “the web, fuses data and then links these data on violent events to stylised icons for human rights violations committed by state and non-state actors”.

The paper ends optimistically:

“The deluge of information in the data age presents opportunities for greater accountability of Governments and most likely more awareness of the importance of facts and evidence. Efforts to embrace and exploit citizen, public and open source data will become the norm over the forthcoming years. Academic and commercial partnerships are one route to harnessing the power of the new technologies for research and analysis in the conflict and human rights arena… In either case, there is a ready supply of information, a growing demand for solutions to harness the information for valuable deployment across a range of pressing policy areas, and the need to think more systematically about how to structure and organise the information in ways that yield significant added value.”

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One Response to “Crowdsourcing the monitoring of human rights violations”

  1. JMI March 30, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    Really interesting, thanks!

    Given your interest, I think that you (and the other readers here) would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across that theorizes about crowds and such similar phenomena.

    It’s called “The Theory of Crowd Capital” and you can download it here if you’re interested: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2193115

    In my view it provides a powerful, yet simple model, getting to the heart of the matter. Enjoy!

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