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How social media data can improve people’s lives - if used responsibly

Stefaan Verhulst's picture

Image 20170412 25862 wxzwfmIn January 2015, heavy rains triggered unprecedented floods in Malawi. Over the next five weeks, the floods displaced more than 230,000 people and damaged over 64,000 hectares of land.

Almost half the country was labelled a “disaster zone” by Malawi’s government. And as the humanitarian crisis unfolded, relief agencies, such as the Red Cross were faced with the daunting task of allocating aid and resources to places that were virtually unrecorded by the country’s mapping data, and thus rendered almost invisible.

Humanitarian workers struggled to navigate in many of the most affected areas, and one result was that aid did not necessarily reach those most in need.

To prevent similar knowledge gaps in the future, researchers, volunteers and humanitarian workers in Malawi and elsewhere, have turned to an unlikely partner: Facebook.

In 2016, as part of its “Missing Maps” project, the Red Cross accessed Facebook’s rich population density data to find and map people who were critically vulnerable to natural disasters and health emergencies, but remained unrecorded in existing maps.

Media (R)evolutions: Media use in the Middle East

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
Also available in:  Françaisالعربية 

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
 
Digital divides are narrowing between generations and social classes within countries in the Middle East, according to a report published by the Northwestern University in Qatar in partnership with Doha Film Institute. This six-nation (Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates) survey provides a comprehensive overview of media use in the region. Here are some of the findings of the report:
  • “Cultural attitudes
    • A majority of nationals in all six countries want more entertainment media based on their culture and history, ranging from 52% of Tunisians to 80% of Qataris.
    • Use of entertainment media in Arabic is widespread, but use of English is much lower and—in some countries—declining. Only about four in 10 nationals watch films or access the internet in English. Majorities of nationals consume entertainment content from Arab countries, while consumption of film, TV, and music from the U.S. decreased since 2014.
  • Censorship and regulations
    • Three in 10 internet users worry about governments checking their online activity, a slight decline from 2013 and 2015.
    • A majority of nationals supports the freedom to express ideas online even if they are unpopular (54%).
  • Online & Social Media
    • About eight in 10 national internet users in the region use Facebook and WhatsApp, the dominant social media platforms.
    • From 2013 to 2016, internet penetration rose in all six countries surveyed, but most dramatically in Egypt, as well as Lebanon.
    • Nearly all nationals in Arab Gulf countries use the internet.

A first look at Facebook’s high-resolution population maps

Talip Kilic's picture

Facebook recently announced the public release of unprecedentedly high-resolution population maps for Ghana, Haiti, Malawi, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. These maps have been produced jointly by the Facebook Connectivity Lab and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), and provide data on the distribution of human populations at 30-meter spatial resolution. Facebook conducted this research to inform the development of wireless communication technologies and platforms to bring Internet to the globally unconnected as part of the internet.org initiative.

Figure 1 conveys the spatial resolution of the Facebook dataset, unmatched in its ability to identify settlements. We are looking at approximately a 1 km2 area covering a rural village in Malawi. Previous efforts to map population would have represented this area with only a single grid cell (LandScan), or 100 cells (WorldPop), but Facebook has achieved the highest level of spatial refinement yet, with 900 cells. The blue areas identify the populated pixels in Facebook’s impressive map of the Warm Heart of Africa.
 

Figure 1: Digital Globe Imagery from Rural Malawi Overlaid with Facebook Populated Cells

Facebook’s computer vision approach is a very fast method to produce spatially-explicit country-wide population estimates. Using their method, Facebook successfully generated at-scale, high-resolution insights on the distribution of buildings, unmatched by any other remote sensing effort to date.  These maps demonstrate the value of artificial intelligence for filling data gaps and creating new datasets, and they could provide a promising complement to household surveys and censuses. 

Beginning in March 2016, we started collaborating with Facebook to assess the precision of the maps and explore their potential uses in development efforts. Here, we describe the analyses undertaken to date by the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team at the World Bank to compare the high-resolution population projections against the ground truth data. Among the countries that were part of the initial release, Malawi was of particular interest for the validation exercise given the range of data at our disposal.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 
The Economist
STOKE-ON-TRENT in northern England is home to the world’s second-oldest professional football club, Stoke City FC. Founded in 1863, it enjoyed its heyday in the mid-1970s, when the club came close to winning the top division. The playing style was described by its manager, Tony Waddington, as “the working man’s ballet”. These days the flair is often provided by players from far afield. More than half the first-team squad comes from outside Britain, mostly from other parts of Europe. But that is about as far as Europhilia in Stoke goes. In June’s referendum on Britain’s European Union membership, the city voted strongly for Brexit.
 
Stanford Social Innovation Review
Today, examples of rapid, non-linear progress—sometimes called leapfrogging—are evident in a number of sectors. Often, these instances are most obvious in the developing world, where in telecommunications or banking, for example, whole phases of infrastructure and institution-building that other countries had to go through have been by-passed by nations that got a later start down that road. Many African countries never systematically invested in laying phone lines, yet today access to cell phone service on the continent has grown so rapidly that in many cases communities are more likely to be connected to the outside world via cell phone service than to have access to electricity or running water. Likewise for banking: Instead of focusing on expanding physical branches to reach the many communities and families who lack access, people across the developing world are relying on mobile money—transfers and payments via text message—which grew out of innovations in Kenya. Could this type of non-linear progress happen in education?
 

Campaign art: Addiction may not be obvious but its effects are real

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Do you have friends or people you follow on social media who always have a drink in their hand? Does that seem normal to you?  Did you ever wonder if they might have a problem?

Meet Louise Delage. She’s beautiful, trendy, and seems to lead a very glamorous life.  The only problem is she’s always drinking… and no one notices.  In the span of a few months, she was able to cultivate over 16,000 followers and 50,000 likes, few of whom noticed she is a functional alcoholic. The overwhelming majority of her followers just saw a pretty woman having fun, failing to notice her alcohol problem.

This is all part of a social campaign from Paris agency BETC called "Like My Addiction" rolled out for Addict Aide, which sought to raise awareness of alcoholism among young people. According to the organization, one out of every five deaths of young people each year is from addiction. The World Health Organization also warns of the hazards of alcohol, declaring that harmful alcohol consumption has now become "one of the most important risks to health: it is the leading risk factor in developing countries with low mortality rates and ranks third in developed countries, according to the World Health Report 2002."  Alcohol use contributes to a wide range of diseases, health conditions and high-risk behaviours, from mental disorders and road traffic injuries, to liver diseases and unsafe sexual behaviour.

The truth about Louise was revealed in a video published on Instagram and YouTube:
 
Like my Addiction

Facebook, the OECD & the World Bank have a new way to survey businesses

Tim Herzog's picture


Countries in which firms were surveyed for initial round of “Future of Business Survey”

Facebook, the OECD and World Bank have just released the “Future of Business Survey” - a new source of information on small and medium enterprises. You can download the report and explore the results here.

The shared goal of this work is to help policymakers, researchers, and businesses to better understand business sentiment, and to leverage a digital platform to provide a unique source of information.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Corruption Perceptions Index 
Transparency International 
2015 showed that people working together can succeed in fighting corruption. Although corruption is still rife globally, more countries improved their scores in 2015 than declined. Five of the 10 most corrupt countries also rank among the 10 least peaceful places in the world. Northern Europe emerges well in the index – it’s home to four of the top five countries. But just because a country has a clean public sector at home, doesn’t mean it isn’t linked to corruption elsewhere.
 
An Economy For the 1%
Oxfam
The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest. A global network of tax havens further enables the richest individuals to hide $7.6 trillion. The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


If Everyone Gets Electricity, Can the Planet Survive?
The Atlantic
Last week, the vast majority of the world’s prime ministers and presidents, along with the odd pontiff and monarch, gathered in New York to sign up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Across 169 targets, the SDGs declare the global aspiration to end poverty and malnutrition, slash child mortality, and guarantee universal secondary education by 2030. And they also call for universal access to modern energy alongside taking “urgent action to combat climate change.” These last two targets are surely important, but they conflict, too: More electricity production is likely to mean more greenhouse-gas emissions.

Special Report: Connected Citizens - Managing Crisis
Developing Telecomms
As connectivity extends to the remotest parts of the world an unprecedented and transformational development of ICT knowledge and skills is taking place. This is resulting in an urgent reappraisal of the ways in which crisis situations are managed and to the concept of 'disaster relief'.  Connected citizens become proactive partners in crisis management and recovery, finding ICT based solutions to problems, guiding and channelling emergency relief efforts and leading rebuilding activities.

Media (R)evolutions: Facebook fatigue sets in

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Facebook is, by a long shot, the world's largest social network.  As of June 2015, it claimed a staggering 1.49 billion active users globally and 968 million daily active users, with mobile users making up more than 87% of these totals. Outside China, over 80% of internet users have a Facebook account, and the platform still has the most members and active users of any social network.

Moreover, users tend to visit Facebook multiple times each day— activity not seen to the same degree on other networks. Visits from users in developed countries are generally briefer than those in emerging markets, but regardless of location, more than half of Facebook’s active users engage with the site more than once a day.

However, even though Facebook's empire continues to expand, with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram all playing important roles, "Facebook fatigue", in which users avoid the platform for weeks at a time, has emerged as a new trend.  GlobalWebIndex (GWI) interviewed 200,000 internet users across 33 different countries, and the results appear to show that this trend is increasingly global.
 
Decline in Facebook use globally

On the geopolitics of "platforms"

CGCS's picture

Robyn Caplan is one of ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar. In this blog post, the evolving relationships between social and traditional media and between politics and information policy regimes are reviewed.

Map of the frequency with which people in different places @reply to each other on TwitterIn the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach a younger generation that has moved away from traditional media. This shift, which began as a gradual adoption by state and public officials over the last several years, is quickly gaining speed. Iranian politicians, such as President Rouhani, have also taken to Twitter, a medium still banned in their own country. The low barriers to entry and high potential return make social media an ideal space for geopolitical actors to experiment with their communications strategies. ISIS, for example, has developed a skillful social media strategy over the last few years, building up a large following (which emerged out of both shock and awe) with whom they can now communicate directly (Morgan, 2015, p. 2). As more information is disseminated through these platforms, considering the role that technological and algorithmic design has on geopolitics is increasingly important.


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