Turning the Spotlight on the Crowd: Examining the Participatory Ethics and Practices of Crisis Mapping
'Crisis maps' are crowd sourced web 2.0 maps designed to respond to natural disasters and escalating political conflicts. They are archetypal web 2.0 maps: interactive, dynamic, public, fuse together different information streams, and can employ both custom-built professional platforms and homemade software. Crisis maps work by georeferencing events that occur throughout a crisis, such as reports of damage, needs and casualties or protests, fights and arrests. Data sources are diverse and range from news from traditional media outlets and NGO press releases to geotagged Twitter reports, YouTube videos or SMS text messages. Hence, at least potentially, any person connected by mobile phone or internet can participate in the generation of crisis maps. Crisis maps appeal explicitly to a participatory ethic in order to help those in need. Drawing upon an explorative sample of crisis maps, this paper shines a critical spotlight on notions of participation in crisis mapping discourses, looking at different sorts of crowds participating; the rhetoric that draws them in; and the practical ways in which people contribute to the maps. The paper concludes by questioning imaginations of crisis maps as a participatory bottom-up representation of ‘ordinary voices’ on the ground.
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