Panel 7 – The politics and ethics of data and digital technologies in disasters and emergencies

Conveners: Kristoffer Albris (Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen) and Nathan Edward Clark (Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen)

Abstract: Disasters are becoming digital. More and more, professional disaster management systems and bottom-up, volunteer initiatives processes rely on (big) data, digital technologies, social media platforms and geospatial information to assess risks, organize recovery efforts, and perform early warnings. There is indeed a sense that the digital revolution in its various guises and expressions has already had profound effects on the conduct and theory of disaster management, while holding even greater potentials for the future (Palen and Anderson 2016).

Yet the use of digital technologies and data for disaster management also brings with it a number of unaddressed and unanswered challenges and issues (Alexander 2014). For instance, how are citizens’ rights of anonymity, privacy, security and data ownership guaranteed when they contribute – knowingly or unknowingly – to disaster management efforts through social media and other digital platforms? How do the uses – and potential misuses – of digital technologies and data in disaster management affect questions of liability and responsibility? How do authorities and communities react to misinformation and “fake news” in disaster situations? What sorts of questions does the issue of data sensitivity for aid relief in complex emergencies present us with? These are just some of the questions at stake in the politics and ethics of the use of data and digital technologies in disasters and emergencies. Crucially, the plethora of new digital innovations in disasters and emergencies occur at different scales, from the local to the global levels, and in different tempi, from immediate to long-term implications, which often makes it hard to comparatively discuss their ethical and political implications. For this panel, we invite papers that deal critically with how (big) data, social media platforms, GIS and remote sensing technologies, and other emerging digital technologies, are being used throughout all phases of the disaster management cycle, as well as in humanitarian emergencies. We especially encourage papers that simultaneously address theoretical questions and practice-oriented problems.

Long Abstract: Disasters are becoming digital. More and more, professional disaster management systems and bottom-up, volunteer initiatives processes rely on (big) data, digital technologies, social media platforms and geospatial information to assess risks, organize recovery efforts, and perform early warnings. There is indeed a sense that the digital revolution in its various guises and expressions has already had profound effects on the conduct and theory of disaster management, while holding even greater potentials for the future (Palen and Anderson 2016). Geospatial information systems (GIS) and remote sensing data are used by professional emergency agencies and online digital volunteers to do damage assessments, locate victims, or organize the distribution of aid resources (Kogan et al. 2016). Social media platforms are used to communicate risk information between authorities and citizens, and also to mobilize volunteers across geographical locations (Reuter, Hughes and Kaufhold 2018). Large data-sets – or big data – supplying demographic and socio-economic information are consulted in vulnerability assessments. Digital technologies such smartphones, smart wearables, tracking systems, and virtual reality devices are finding their way into various stages and domains of disaster management and disaster research. Similarly, digital technologies are also being applied in humanitarian work around armed conflicts and refugee crises through activities such as mapping hotspots, locating shelters, and tracking aid stations.

While these developments in many respects signal profound and positive changes, the use of digital technologies and data for disaster management also brings with it a number of unaddressed and unanswered challenges and issues (Alexander 2014). For instance, how are citizens’ rights of anonymity, privacy, security and data ownership guaranteed when they contribute – knowingly or unknowingly – to disaster management efforts through social media and other digital platforms? How do the uses – and potential misuses – of digital technologies and data in disaster management affect questions of liability and responsibility? How do authorities and communities react to misinformation and “fake news” in disaster situations? What sorts of questions does the issue of data sensitivity for aid relief in complex emergencies present us with? These are just some of the questions at stake in the politics and ethics of the use of data and digital technologies in disasters and emergencies. Crucially, the plethora of new digital innovations in disasters and emergencies occur at different scales, from the local to the global levels, and in different tempi, from immediate to long-term implications, which often makes it hard to comparatively discuss their ethical and political implications.

For this panel, we invite papers that deal critically with how (big) data, social media platforms, GIS and remote sensing technologies, and other emerging digital technologies, are being used throughout all phases of the disaster management cycle, as well as in humanitarian emergencies. We especially encourage papers that simultaneously address theoretical questions and practice-oriented problems.

References

Alexander, D. 2013. ‘Social Media in Disaster Risk Reduction and Crisis Management’, Science Engineering Ethics, Volume 20, pp. 717-733.

Kogan, M., Anderson, J., Palen, L., Anderson, K. M., & Soden, R. (2016). Finding the way to OSM mapping practices: Bounding large crisis data- sets for qualitative investigation. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Confer- ence on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI ‘16 (pp. 2783– 2795). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1145/2858036.2858371

Palen, L., & Anderson, K. M. (2016). Crisis informatics: New data for extraordinary times. Science, 353(6296), 224–225.

Reuter, Christian, Amanda Lee Hughes & Marc-André Kaufhold (2018) Social Media in Crisis Management: An Evaluation and Analysis of Crisis Informatics Research, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 34:4, 280-294. https://DOI.org/10.1080/10447318.2018.1427832