The international crowdsourcing search to find Malaysian Flight 370 has brought into focus, the role of technology, hyperconnectivity and social media in crisis and humanitarian response.

Since DigitalGlobe, opened their crowdsourcing platform, Tomnod to scour satellite images of the vast oceans where the plane disappeared, hundreds of thousands of concerned world citizens have come forward to help, even crashing the site.

Patrick Meier

Today on #crowdchat on Twitter, we interviewed Patrick Meier, (PhD), an internationally recognized pioneer in applications of  new technologies like big data and crowdsourcing to help with crisis early warning, humanitarian response and resilience. He presently serves as Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) where he develops and prototypes next generation humanitarian technologies.

On the #Crowdchat, Patrick tweeted about the rise of the Digital Humanitarian and clarified that in today’s information age a digital humanitarian need not be tech-savvy and/or have lots of time on their hands + lots of patience.  If you are reading this blog post or use social media, and want to help out in times of a crisis –you can be a digital humanitarian, no prior experience is required.

In light of the missing plane, MH3670, Patrick, threw out a lot of interesting snippets during the chat, that is helping the means and outcomes of emergency response.

  • Before digital social media, one main challenge for humanitarian response was the lack of information on impact/needs.
  • Today, thanks to social media & mobile phones, there is often an overflow of information, big data, generated during crises.
  • Social media also facilitates self-help & mutual aid, can serve as a “Match dot com” for disaster response.
  • There are many manual ways to verify crowdsourced data, like the Verification Handbook, a useful resource for journalists and aid providers, in addition to the more complex, automated verification methods.
  • Platforms and organizations like @MapGive@HOTosm@the_zooniverse@Tomnod@MicroMappers@digihums are leading the pack of innovators in the digital humanitarian space.
  • Disaster response differs based on how connected a country is, digital humanitarian response makes sense for countries with large digital & social media footprints, like Philippines.

Patrick also highlighted a few ways, Asia can improve conditions for more efficient digital humanitarian efforts for crisis preparedness. 

  • Disaster response orgs in Asia need to create demand for high quality social media reports
  • Policy makers also need to focus on data privacy & protection around bigdata & disasters
  • Institutions in Asia could promote the concept of Social Media Data Donors during disasters

Patrick’s upcoming book, titled, “Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Changes the Face of Disaster Response”, charts the rise of Digital Humanitarians from the Haiti Earthquake to present day. The book will relay inspiring, real life stories of how digital volunteers are changing humanitarian response.

Get the full #crowdchat schedule as we head to Crowdsourcing Week Global’ 14 in Singapore. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about future events and crowdchats.