The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) activated the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) on December 5th at 3pm Geneva time (9am New York). The activation request? To collect all relevant tweets about Typhoon Pablo posted on December 4th and 5th; identify pictures and videos of damage/flooding shared in those tweets; geo-locate, time-stamp and categorize this content. The UN requested that this database be shared with them by 5am Geneva time the following day.
The DHN is composed of several members who form Solution Teams when the network is activated. The purpose of Digital Humanitarians is to support humanitarian organizations in their disaster response efforts around the world. Solution Team volunteers analyzed over 20,000 tweets in just 10 hours using a variety of methods ranging from automated algorithms to micro-tasking. They used Geofeedia to identify all relevant pictures/videos that were already geo-tagged by users. About a dozen were identified in this manner. They also partnered with the Qatar Foundation Computing Research Institute’s (QCRI) Crisis Computing Team to collect all tweets posted on December 5th with the hashtags endorsed by the Philippine Government. QCRI ran algorithms on the dataset to remove (1) all retweets and (2) all tweets without links (URLs).
On the micro-tasking side, digital volunteers used PyBossa, a free and open-source micro-tasking platform. Micro-tasking envolves taking a big task and turning it into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks. Colleagues at PyBossa rapidly customized a platform to support the Digital Humanitarian Network. Volunteers would simply go to the PyBossa website for Typhoon Pablo where they’d be shown one tweet at time as the screenshot below demonstrates.
The result? Within 10 hours, over 20,000 tweets were analyzed using a combination of methodologies. By 4.30am Geneva time, the efforts of the Digital Humanitarian Network resulted in a database of 138 highly annotated tweets. Just hours later, UN OCHA published the map below which is entirely sourced from the social media analysis produced by the Digital Humanitarian Network. This is the first ever map of this kind and an important milestone in digital humanitarian response. (Simply click on the map to enlarge).
Just a few days ago, the Digital Humanitarian Network was once again activated; this time in response to Cyclone Evan in Samoa. If you want to become a digital humanitarian, please visit the DHN website to learn more about the individual teams and contact those you are most interested in.
Patrick Meier is a 2012 National Geographic Emerging Explorer. He is an internationally recognized thought leader on the application of new technologies for positive social change. He currently serves as Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute (QCRI). Patrick also authors the widely respected iRevolution blog and tweets at @patrickmeier.