Is Twitter bad for ethical decision making?

April 13, 2009

On the back of a string of interesting posts about crowdsourcing in general, and Twitter in particular, a new study has just been published which suggests that Twitter-like information processing may be bad for moral decision making.

A University of Southern California study found that emotions related to moral judgement “awaken slowly” in the mind, require time for reflection, and may be short circuited by quick response, rapid fire information processing needs; especially those related to fear and pain.

The study, “Tweet this: Rapid-fire media may be bad for your moral compass“, used brain scanning to measure the onset time of different emotions.

Fear and pain are rapid onset, rapid response emotions.  Compassion and admiration, on the other hand, take much longer to occur yet persist longer.

The authors write,

The study raises questions about the emotional cost—particularly for the developing brain—of heavy reliance on a rapid stream of news snippets obtained through television, online feeds or social networks such as Twitter.

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” Immordino- Yang said.

They go on; “In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in.”

Could too much Twitter be bad for the humanitarian brain, already stressed to the limit with images of human suffering?  


Twitter and the online revolution in Moldova

April 7, 2009

 

An anonymous reader on slashdot writes:

“Reacting to allegedly fraudulent election procedures, students are storming the presidency and parliament of the small eastern European country of Moldova. It is reported that they used Twitter to organize. Currently twitter and blogs are being used to spread word of what is happening since all national news websites have been blocked. If the 1989 Romanian revolution was the first to be televised, is this the first to be led by twitter and social networks?”

Jamie points out this interesting presentation (from March 2008) by Ethan Zuckerman about the realities of online activism, including how governments try to constrain it.

UPDATE 1 - Daniel Korski from Global Dashboard writes:

Text messaging played a key role in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, but in Moldova they have gone one step further and are using Twitter to organise the days’ events. As this blogpost explains,  the most popular discussions on Twitter in the last 48 hours have been posts marked with thetag “#pman“, which is short for “Piata Marii Adunari Nationale”, the main square in Chisinau, where the protesters began their marches.

The BBC reports here.


Mobile phone viruses; ruining a crowdsource near you soon

April 6, 2009

virus-spread1

A new study by network analysts suggest that mobile phones may soon pass a critical threshold, after which viruses could become a crippling fact of life.

Academic paper here, supporting web material here, and a very good CBC summary here.

From the CBC article:

There have been no major outbreaks of computer viruses among smartphones because no smartphone operating system is popular enough to let a virus to spread effectively — yet, a new study suggests.

The data also predict that once a single smartphone operating system gains a critical percentage of the entire mobile phone market, viruses could start to pose “a serious threat” to mobile communications, said the study released Thursday in Science Express.

Smartphones “are poised to become the dominant communication device in the near future, raising the possibility of virus breakouts that could overshadow the disruption caused by traditional computer viruses,” said the paper by Pu Wang and other researchers at Northwestern University.

The implications for the excitement around crowdsourced, mobile mapping, and similar mobile technologies for humanitarian aid should be obvious and terrifying.


G20 update; crowdsourced crisis information live

April 1, 2009

crisisjpg

More cameras than protesters?

It appears that the amount of media presence, Internet and otherwise, is having a large magnifying effect on the perception of the protests themselves.  A Google blog search at 16:36 found over 997,000 blog hits for “G20 protesters“, over 3 million web pages, and nearly 15,000 news items.  That is probably several orders of magnitude higher than the number of protesters actually at the site.

Traffic on Twitter seems mixed, with a large amount of discussion on the role and impact of the media.  Notes such as;

4.28pm:
On Twitter, Snufkin21 says Stop the War protesters booed the mediapresent “for hyping up the G20 violence”. The huge media presence has been criticised by a number of people on Twitter who believe it’s encouraged extreme elements to “play to the gallery”.

Are intermixed with live accounts such as;

4.07pm: 
Police on horses have carried out two charges down Threadneedle Street in a bid to disperse protesters, says Alok Jha, who is at the scene. Alok said everything had been calm beforehand and demonstrators have not been impressed by the police response.

Mixed messages

There are a variety of conflicting claims being made, about the magnitude of violence, the presence of the media, and the reaction of the police.  Reading the Twitter feed directly (Twitter search, #G20) yields a confusing array of opinion, advice, updates, and news items.  Including the following excerpts;

DanSpringWell done the Police today at #G20. Felt safe in Romford disaster recovery office!

pgb63Stephen Harper tasered at G20!

AcostafGetting far away from #G20, Cannon st and London Bridge working as normal

Protests + Internet = Force Multiplier

This is an interesting mix of content, coming fast and furious from all angles.  It is reminiscent of  many aspects of the ongoing discussion between Paul Currion and Patrick Meier, about the issues around crowdsourced crisis data.  Paul writes that, “crowdsourcing is unfamiliar, it’s untested in the field and it makes fairly large claims that are not well backed by substantial evidence.”

Among it’s dangers, we argue, is the rapid magnification of false or intentionally deceptive data.  Patrick calls this “crisis magnification“.  We discussed it in depth in here.  What we are seeing with the G20 protests in an excellent example of this.  No matter what is actually happening on the ground, there is a massive, unfiltered, and confusing amount of information being generated. 

Here comes everysource

While we can argue that this massive generation of fresh live content is a good thing (as Patrick does here), it is clearly a new thing, with uncertain outcomes and value.  Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody”, writes about the problem of filtering this massive amount of information.

The old ways of filtering were neither universal nor ideal [referring to TV and print]…  Mass amateurization has created a filtering problem vastly larger than we had with traditional media; so much larger, in fact, that many of the old ways are simply broken.

What is interesting, he notes, is that although it is possible to for everyone to read anyone’s blog, Twitter feed, or website, it is not possible for anyone to read everyone’s information.  

In fact this isn’t the way it works.  The vast majority of this content is generated by people close to or within your social network (personal or professional) and is intended for people close to or within your social network.  Web 2.0 and social media has taught us that although there may be over 250 million blogs on the Internet, the vast majority of this information is local, read by practically no one, and only intended for your friends and colleagues. 

Crowdsourced crisis information FOR YOUR FRIENDS

Could the same principle apply to crowdsourced crisis information?  Crowdsourced crisis information won’t be broadcast in the traditional sense, with millions of people listening to a single source.  Instead, communities of trust and relationships will build over time, with individual air workers, responders, and agencies building networks of trusted information sources just as we build networks of trusted friendships.

It isn’t as if field workers and disaster responders will go to any old Twitter feed they find and trust any bit of information they get texted about.  As in all social media, they will go to the ones they trust first.  Crowdsourcing doesn’t change this, it just lower the bar of entry for participating in the conversation.

Paradoxically, this new flood of information might end up having the opposite effect; crisis responders who only pay attention to their trusted sources and ignore the “weak signals” flooding in from all sides at once.  

Or maybe the opposite might happen?  Maybe the promise of crowdsourced crisis information has nothing to do with aid responders.  Maybe it will work just like Facebook, MySpace, and other forms of social media work.  A bomb goes off in your neighbourhood, you text your friends, who Twitter their work colleagues, who call their parents, who write a blog post read only by their cousins.  Maybe the AP will pick it up, maybe there will be value for figuring out how many dead and wounded need treatment.  

But at the end of the day, perhaps crowdsourced crisis information isn’t all that different from any kind of shared information; it all depends on who you talk to.


Paul Currion on the “crisis” of crowdsourcing in a crisis

March 31, 2009

 

Paul Currion (humanitarian.info) has started an excellent critique of crowdsourced information in crisis, responding to two excellent posts by Patrick Phillipe Meyer (iRevolution).

Instead of incestuously summarising here, I refer readers to Patrick’s original posts:

And then to Paul’s critique here:

As well as an HFP blog related plug here:

We hope Patrick replies. Updates to follow as they emerge.


The promise and peril of crowd sourcing crisis information

January 11, 2009

Several excellent example of how mobile phones are being linked to the web to create new crisis reporting (and response) systems, as well as several examples from recent conflicts of how such tools can be used as another weapon of war.  

In this video from Pop!Tech, Ken Banks explains how his software is being used by various humanitarian NGO’s for quicker reporting, monitoring, and mobilisation.  Ken is the founder of kiwanja.net, a site which helps local, national and international non-profits get their jobs done through mobile phone services.  

Kiwanja.net makes software called FrontlineSMS, which is being used by another piece of brilliant software application called Ushahidi (Ushahidi is also a finalist in the USAID Development 2.0 Challenge)  Ushahidi allows people to:

•    send and receive SMS alerts;
•    set up a local or international alert number at short notice;
•    work on different smartphones;
•    send MMS messages (images and video);
•    send GPS coordinates.

Forbes.com has an excellent article on how this is being used to cover emerging humanitarian crises. Al Jazeera is already using this to cover the crisis in Gaza, the software is in use in the DRC right now (also on the BBC website here), and for AIDS relief projects in Malawi.

These kinds of real-time disaster discovery and reporting technologies are likely to play a larger and larger role in the humanitarian sector over the coming decade. But there are dangers to these developments as well as opportunities. Jeremiah Owyang, a senior strategist in social computing at Forrester Research, reports on how Twitter is being used to report disasters. He observes several risks when relying on these technologies;

1) Sources may panic, and over or under state the situation.
2) Determining who is a credible source is a challenge,
3) Echos from the online network may over pump or mis state very important facts that could impact people’s safety.

He argues that lessons from a recent explosion in Toronto offer several key take away thoughts:

  • The new News Wire is now Twitter, the “Twire”?
  • News continues to break from first hand sources, in the past, the press would break the stories.
  • The jobs of the press are both easier and harder: They’ve improved access to sources in real time, but the level of noise has increased.
  • Press and Media must monitor Twitter: we’ve never seen information break as fast as this.
  • Press still have a very important role: vetting out what’s true and false to the best of their ability.
  • The community must be mindful of what’s real and what’s not, over hyping or spreading false information could impact lives.
  • Emergency response teams and local municipalities should monitor the online chatter, just as they do emergency short wave channels.

All of this is tremendously important for humanitarian researchers, field workers and strategists to consider when integrating these technologies into their work.  Crowdsourced news sources can cut both ways.  We already know how politically biased official reporting of disaster impacts can be; governments are prone to over- or under-report numbers as per their political preference.  If anyone can report anything now, and an eager news media is prone to catch the scoop and broadcast it loudly, how might local political vendettas play into the disaster response process?  One imagines that natural vetting sources, including reputation ranking, will likely arise to counter-balance what is otherwise a total free-for-all.  But we’re still very much in the Wild, Wild West when it comes to these frontiers.

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