Time-critical crowdsourcing during crises

Posted on 22nd May 2013 in Homeland Security, Internet of Things

Even though I’m concentrating on the Internet of Things these days, I try to keep a hand in one of my enduring passions: using a combination of social media and mobile devices during disasters/terrorist attacks — what I call “networked homeland security.” After all, as John Arquilla has argued, we are in an era of netwars in which the enemy isn’t organized hierarchically but is networked (and, by extension natural disasters are similar: they are chaotic, opportunistic, and anything but orderly), so it takes a flexible, networked response to deal with them effectively (and, to tie in my work with the IoT, I expect that the IoT will radically increase our ability to share data and collaborate!).

Sooo, I was terribly excited to read this blog post by the brilliant Patrick Meier on how “time-critical crowdsourcing” could be used to verify critical information in near real-time during a disaster (or debunk it, in the case of erroneous information). The Patriots’ Day bombings in the Hub of the Universe underscored both the value of social media and its pitfalls, as in the case of erroneous identification of the bombers on Reddit.

Meier’s new project, Verily, will take a two-pronged approach to speed verification of data in disasters/terror attacks:

  1. time-critical mobilization & crowdsourcing. The logic is that these incidents are geographically bounded, so that people who actually are on the scene could be quickly identified through their social networks, and could use their smart-phone cameras to actually document the situation (I predicted this kind of verification in a now-laughably dated YouTube video six years ago when these cameras were first becoming widespread).
  2. the novel part is to also  crowdsource critical thinking. Meier says that Pinterest is the model for this process. “…. with each piece of content (text, image, video), users are required to add a sentence or two to explain why they think or know that piece of evidence is authentic or not. Others can comment on said evidence accordingly. This workflow prompts users to think critically rather than blindly share/RT content on Twitter without much thought, context or explanation. Indeed, we hope that with Verily more people will share links back to Verily pages rather than to out of context and unsubstantiated links of images/videos/claims, etc.”

Meier says the Verily project will try to foster this kind of critical thinking (hey, we aren’t going to do it without some guidance: my gripe with vacuous sloganeering such as DHS’ “If you see something, say something” campaign — exactly what is it that they think we might see???? Tell us, please, Sec. Napolitano, what to look for).   It will include mini-guides on information forensicsavailable to users — drawn in part from old friend Andy Carvin.

So bravo for Verily — it fascinates me that every time our mobile devices gain some new powers or some new social medium is created, bright people come up with innovative ways to crowdsource information in disasters. Verily, by adding in the important factor of critical thinking, should radically improve the quality of this information.

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