Sunday, November 29, 2015

Anonymous' cyberwar on ISIS

Isis has recently stated that it would fight against ISIS after the Paris attacks. Since then the collective has claimed that it has helped taking down a multitude of Twitter accounts.After having the discussion concerning the recent attacks on Paris in November this blog post focuses on the question whether the efforts of social media activist groups against ISIS is useful or not.

Anonymous activist declaring war on ISIS in a video message which went viral
(source: Reuters)

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, Several social media activists such as the famous collective Anonymous have declared a cyberwar on ISIS. By applying a keyword search tactic activists aim to identify and report ISIS supporters in order to disrupt their online recruitment process on social media platforms such as Twitter. Anonymous has branded its actions by using the hashtags #OPPparis and #OPISIS. In addition, Anonymous has also released a detailed how-to list in order for supporters to help take ISIS off the internet. Hence, Anonymous offers a tool that identifies certain keywords and reports ISIS supportive behavior to Twitter. It is then up to Twitter to check the report and decide whether to take the reported account offline or not. As of today more than 25,000 accounts have been taken down with the help of Anonymous as the hacker collective has claimed.
 This movement has been regarded both positively and critically by experts. On the one hand, by applying the keyword search tactics, the cyber activist risks to eliminate Twitter accounts of persons who are not supportive, but rather following ISIS in order to conduct research or for intelligence purposes. Hence, news organizations and journalists have been affected by the movement. On the other hand, every action that could possibly weaken the ISIS online presence and the process of spreading propaganda and recruiting new supporters is regarded to be useful.
With regards to the latest actions the State Department and the Department of Defense have not commented on the movement started by various hackers. Though the State Department stated the following: “We are always tracking and evaluating technological changes in the radicalization messaging space, and are continually working to amplify and empower credible third parties to counter ISIL’s messages.“
 Finally, once taken down, members and supporters of ISIS can create a new account, but the movement clearly shows that society does not tolerate ISIS and is trying to hold against their growth.  As Social Media can be a powerful tool on both sides, in order to be effective users should really get information on the accounts  they want to report to Twitter in order to avoid shutting down innocent users. This seems to be almost impossible considering the multitude of Twitter accounts (over 46,000 between September and December, 2014) but it considered to be a symbol of different groups uniting against ISIS on Twitter. 


Weather related disasters

I came across a report from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction which found that 90 percent of all major disasters in the past 20 years were caused by weather. From floods to droughts, storms to heatwaves, a grand total of 6,457 events claimed the lives of 606,000 people, and impacted 4.1 billion others, who were either hurt, homeless, or needed help after disaster struck. The events also caused an estimated $1.89 trillion in damage. The report titled ‘The human cost of weather related disasters’ published by Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) is available at link .

           This publication provides a revealing analysis of weather-related disaster trends over a twenty year time-frame which coincides with a period which has seen the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties become an established annual fixture on the calendar. The contents of this report underline why it is so important that a new climate change agreement emerges from the COP21 in Paris in December.
The number of deaths due to weather is troubling, and different parts of the world are getting hit with different types of weather troubles. The most common weather disaster is flooding, making up nearly half of the total events. But floods, while devastating, aren't nearly as deadly as storms, which were responsible for the deaths of 242,000 people, primarily in poorer countries. Heatwaves, on the other hand primarily affected wealthy countries, killing 148,000 people in 20 years, mostly in Europe, a continent not used to extreme heat. In Russia alone heatwave claimed more than 55,000 lives in 2010 summers.
Experts worry that events like this will continue to increase as climate change continues. Higher temperatures caused by global warming can change weather patterns and raise sea levels, putting an even greater proportion of the world's population at risk.
           Better management, mitigation and deployment of early warnings could save more lives in future and there is a requirement for strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk. The Social Media because of its reach has a very important role to play in future for these activities.

Social Media in India

Recently I came across the webpage This webpage provides a very exciting statistics about “Social Media in India”. It appears the data has been collected from the “Global Web Index.” The key statistics, indicated on the website, is furnished below:
§  Internet Users: 350 million.
§  Social Media Users: 134 million.
§  Unique Mobile Users: 590 million.
§  Mobile Internet Users: 159 million.
§  Mobile Social Media Users: 97 million.

The website has also mentioned that Social media use continues to grow in India. The number of active users is increasing at a rate of roughly one every second. Facebook dominates today’s platform rankings in terms of monthly active users, but it’s worth highlighting that chat apps – and WhatsApp in particular – are already beginning to change the look of the social media landscape. Facebook recorded 28 million new users in India in the past year.  Overall, 72% of India’s social media users log in via mobile devices. It’s also worth noting that the average social media user in India is considerably younger than the global average, with more than half of the platform’s Indian user base aged 23 or younger. The numbers also show that men account for more than three-quarters of Facebook’s users.

E-commerce is still in its infancy in India. The value of online purchases in India totaled US$12.5 billion in 2014 (INR 81,500 crore) – less than 3% of the value of China’s e-commerce market. Encouragingly, however, more and more people are using internet-powered services to research products and purchase online. This number is expected to explode as mobile internet access, faster connectivity, and increased familiarity with online shopping combine in the coming months.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Snapchat & the Public Sector

In the class we didn’t present the social media tool Snapchat, so I thought it would be good to do a blog post on the app since it is becoming very popular among politicians in the U.S. The app started as a way for teenagers to communicate with their friends “privately” because the pictures or 10-seconds videos automatically delete after you send them. This feature has made the app very controversial, especially when a hacker was able to enter Snapchat’s data and leaked many private pictures. The issue landed the app in court because many of the pictures where child pornography.

However, Snapchat had changed a lot since this happened. The app now has many “channels” that show content from different magazines and TV channels. It also features exclusive daily stories that every user can see and range from nation/city branding efforts to the presidential debates (below you can see a video of the story posted for one of the debates) and NFL games. I understand this is the feature that matters most to government agencies, as it allows them to show content to more than 100 million daily active users.

More importantly, it is a trendy app for presidential candidates in the U.S. The app allows for candidates to have a more personalized communication with millennials. For example, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie are using it to communicate directly with their followers. Snapchat is also being used by government agencies, such as the Utah Division of Emergency Management, which use it to share better ways to be prepared for emergencies.

FEMA - Federal Emergency App

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an agency under the Department of Homeland Security which provides federal level coordination on emergency and disaster relief to affected communities in the United States. FEMA works alongside local and state responders to provide assistance particularly with communities which may become overwhelmed with a lack of available local resources during a state of emergency.

In the past, FEMA has struggled to address disaster support, such as with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The public demand for immediate and real-time response previously overwhelmed the agency. It took some time to re-evaluate their strategy. 

This new app is a result of their Strategic Plan which addresses responsiveness and enhanced communications for the agency during disaster situations. FEMA's mobile application allows users to post information, seek assistance and learn more about disasters in their respective regions. This is a free and easy to use app, and is available for Apple, Android and Blackberry mobile devices.

The app shows users how to locate open shelters, upload photos from disaster areas, receive alerts from the National Weather Service and tips on how to be prepared for an emergency. While, all of this information was always available on their website, having it handy on a phone is much more helpful.

This modern-approach was really needed; the only disappointing aspect is that it wasn’t developed sooner. While, I personally haven’t used the app for an emergency yet, it is hoped that the app would be able to provide real-time responses and help people in affected areas throughout the United States.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Evaluating Social Media

According to some reports, there are approximately over 3 billion online users in the world. As the number of social media users increase, its relevance to daily life has become increasingly important. Anything from where are users at any given time to providing emergency and/or disaster related information can be shared on these sites. The information is posted easily, quickly and in real-time. Users can respond, provide alerts and/or feedback just as quickly.  

Recently however, particularly in the area of emergency alerts, the importance of verifying and fact-checking online posts has now made it to the public sphere. After the recent tragic attacks in both Paris and Beirut, much has been said about how social media has or has not assisted in providing credible reports during those critical times. 

While it can be said that through social media, information can be relayed and forwarded at the speed of light, it is also something to be wary of as well. What sort of information is forwarded and by whom is just as important as the postings themselves. “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults who use Twitter get news on the platform, according to a recent survey.” (Pew Research)

Evaluating the accuracy of information that is posted should be high on the list, particularly for government and media agencies. Some items to keep in mind, while evaluating postings on social media as shared in a report by Johns Hopkins University:

Location of the source - are they in the place they are tweeting or posting about?
Network - who is in their network and who follows them? Do I know this account?
Content - Can the information be corroborated from other sources?
Contextual updates - Do they usually post or tweet on this topic? If so, what did past or updated posts say? Do they fill in more details?
Account age - What is the age of the account in question? Be wary of recently created accounts.
Reliability - Is the source of information reliable?


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Using Social Media to Manage Natural and Human Disasters

During the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015, Facebook activated its Safety Check services, allowing people to notify others that they are safe. Facebook started developing this feature after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The version of this service/tool launched in October 2014 was aimed to serve as a notification system during natural disasters. However, during the Paris attacks, Facebook decide to use and test the service as response to 'human disasters.'1 According to Mark Zuckerberg, "[their] policy was only to activate Safety Check for natural disasters. We just changed this and now plan to activate Safety Check for human disasters going forward as well." Over four million people used the Safety Check on Facebook to notify others that they are safe, and over 360 million people got notifications that their friends were safe.

This feature is among many others allowing for a greater role of social media in crisis response. During the Paris attacks, other social media were used as part of the response. Individuals were using Twitter to help people in need to find a shelter by using the #PorteOuverte hashtag. Similarly, the French police used Twitter to disseminated pictures of the attackers. Other tools used during this crisis were Google's Hangouts and Skype, which offered free phone calls to Paris from different regions. The response to the attacks shows that technology can play an effective role in disaster response by allowing people to show support and co-ordinate aid.

The Paris attacks show a greater role for social media in disaster management. Public uses social media in different ways during disasters. One common reason is that it allows them to determine disaster magnitude—that is, get informed quickly by one another. Another one is to check in with family and friends like the case of Paris. In a survey in 2010, the American Red Cross found that half of respondents would use social media to let others know they are safe during disasters. Finally, they use social media to mobilize. While government is seen as the responsible party, there are cases where citizens take matters in their hands and organize emergency relief.  While the benefits of tools such as Safety Check are great for individual users, they should be considered with caution by the government officials and managers. Such tools have the opportunity to offer timely information during disasters but are also difficult to monitor. Further, they provide little insight as to who are the ones in need of help and/or services. Another factor that impacts the reliability on such information, are issues of access during natural disasters. During disasters that result in power outages, individuals that need help the most might not be able to access social media. As such, relying entirely on social media might not guarantee that the picture we have of those who need help is true.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A City Jump Starts Data Collection Using Instagram

In Mobile, Alabama, a new mayor entered office wanting to improve the city.  Like Paul O’Neill focusing on worker safety at Alcoa, Mayor Sandy Stimpson identified blight as an underlying cause of other issues affecting residents, namely property values, economic development, and crime rates.  Stimpson believed that reducing blight would lead to improvements in these other areas.  To achieve this goal, he marshaled financial resources to create an innovation team to develop new approaches to solving Mobile’s issues.

Joan Dunlap, the head of the innovation team, quickly identified that the city had no accurate record of blighted properties, making it difficult to measure the effects of any blight reduction programs.  Previously, the city logged complaints submitted via the phone.  To create a more accurate baseline, she turned to Instagram.  Traditionally, governments use Instagram as a marketing tool similar to other image-heavy social media platforms.  But Dunlap used it as a data-gathering tool.  She sent the city’s code enforcement officers throughout the city to snap photos of blighted properties and post them to a city Instagram account.  Data collection through this method gave a larger, and more accurate, number of blighted properties through the city.

The data collected through Instagram served as a starting point for the city’s efforts to deal with blight.  Instagram offers many advantages to the code enforcement officers.  First, it is easy to use and readily available.  Second, it maps the general location of the photos.  Because the app records the location of the photo, the innovation team could see where concentrations of blight occurred on a map.  Third, the app is free.  When a team needs a quick implementation with no cost, a free tool like Instagram is a great option.  While the Instagram collection did not provide specific addresses or give detailed property conditions, it was enough to spark additional data collection efforts.  Mobile’s Geographic Information Systems department provided a better app to collect exact addresses.  Having the exact addresses allowed other departments to add more information to the record.  For example, the tax collection department added information about tax delinquency.  Eventually, this will create a well-rounded and detailed record for each blighted property.

Mobile’s use of Instagram provides an insightful contrast with the SeeClickFix application.  Instagram served as a free tool for city code enforcement officers to collect initial data on community blight.  The first iteration of data collection served as a proof for the effectiveness of collecting community-wide data and bolstered arguments for further tool development.  SeeClickFix is less centralized, relying on community stakeholders to submit issues to the app, which are then forwarded to city contacts.  SeeClickFix also allows a greater variety of physical structure issues to be recorded – from roads to lights to signage.  Mobile’s Instagram use focused on privately-owned buildings.  SeeClickFix allows community voting features, whereas Mobile’s solution will include information from multiple city departments to form a scorecard rating properties for city action.  However, both show how humans are drawn to taking photos as a record of a structure’s state and the ease of recording information through photo taking.  The case of Mobile offers a road map for other cities in using free social media platforms as initial pilots to spur more detailed data collection for city decision making.

Friday, November 20, 2015

ComEd Case Analysis

By Syed Asad Raza,  Hakan Yerlikaya and Kathryn Ryan
The issue of responding to natural disasters is an issue that will affect most people during their lifetimes. While we do not all live in hurricane or earthquake zones, everyone experiences bad weather and most people will experience power outages. The Commonwealth Edison case is an important case study because it highlights how social media can now be used to improve the response to outages caused by natural disasters or other events by utilities and helps us understand the debate between weather public utilities or private utilities like Commonwealth Edison are better equipped to respond to the needs of their customers during storms.
The July Commonwealth Edison storm’s place in social media history
It is important to remember the timing of the July 11 storm that effected the Chicago area and Commonwealth Edison’s customers. The storm hit during a period when the public’s use of social media was growing rapidly. The 2011 storm came just five years after the founding of Twitter in 2006 and only a few short years after the 2009 Twitter revolt in Iran and the 2008 elections in which United States President Barack Obama successfully utilities social media for fundraising and organizing during his presidential campaign. Corporations, government entities and ordinary citizens were beginning to see the power and usefulness of social media.
After struggling with its response to past storms Commonwealth Edison recognized that its consumers were using social media and implemented a plan to address their concerns through social media platforms as well as its website and communication tools (eChannels). The ComEd case came about during a period when Social media had been proliferated across the United States and had become the new norm in most communities. ComEd recognized the value of sites like Facebook and Twitter at a time when many other utility companies were not investing in social media, and although its Twitter and Facebook pages had only a few hundred followers, it did what it could to keep its members informed through social media tools.
How Commonwealth Edison used Socıal Medıa to ımprove theır response to the outages
In the aftermath of July 2011 storm, ComEd developed wıth a robust socıal medıa strategy to better engage with the public and ensure that the concerns of utility customers are being met, in as close to real time as possible.
The company listened to the criticisms of customers, including the feeling that the company was failing to address their needs on an individual level, giving basic and scares feedback rather than personal feedback. The company implemented a plan for better responding to the needs and concerns of customers during outage events which took advantage of existing social media tools to ensure a personalized response to storms and power outages. The main tactic used by the company that was seen as a major improvement from the July storm was the development of a plan to respond to every tweet sent to the ComEd twitter feed and developed a hashtag system for future storms that would allow ComEd to stay connected with eh public and keep the public informed.
The company created an innovative social strategy that was aligned with their business strategy and Integrated social media into business and critical response operations. The company did not simply develop a Facebook page or Twitter account that was managed by one person doing several jobs, instead created a department (eChannels) to communicate with customers by all electronic means. This allowed the company to respond to every tweet and Facebook post sent in. during the storm outlined in this case study the company was successful in responding to incoming social media communications, keeping its promise to respond to everyone.  The eChannels department which combined social media tools with the Commonwealth Edison static webpage and other existing communication tools offered a unique opportunity for the company to monitor and respond to the concerns of employees. It would have likely been more challenging for the company to keep its promise to be more transparent with the public if social media responsibilities were given to a person or team doing multiple jobs, by focusing an entire team on social media the company was able to ensure that its social media plan was not overlooked.
This tactic may be one of the most important lessons from the ComEd case, many organizations do not devote an entire team to social media and communications with the public (mostly because of the experience associated with staffing such a team). However, having a social media team creates a greater ability to respond to the concerns of the public and customers in real time, which can ultimately lead to more success for the company, agency or organization and leads to a better relationship with the public.
Negative aspects of the response

While Commonwealth Edison implemented several innovative ideas in developing its social media plan the company still experienced many shortcomings and its response to the storm remains controversial.  Several issues arose during the response, for example. Using eChannels the company directed the customers who posted about outage in their area to go to the company website or to call the company line.  This was an extra burden on customer who were already facing inconvenience of not having power.  We would argue that it could have better integrated the power outage reporting into social network rather than focusing on redirecting to the static site. ComEd could have also more rapidly posted responses to customers personalized information (as it became available) regarding when the outage would be fixed and what they could do if they needed access to power or to remain safe with no power.
It is important to note that despite the implementation of the E-channels plan Commonwealth Edison was still criticized by many residents of Illinois. The whitepaper issued by the Northwest Municipal Conference regarding the company’s response to the July 2011 storm criticized the response in a White Paper addressing the storm. An Illinois court agreed with the criticism and ordered the company to pay damages to users in 2014.  The court found that Commonwealth Edison customers experienced power outages that were twice as long as they needed to be, resulting in loss of food and other monetary damages. This highlights that a response is about more than social media, the right tools and people need to be on the ground to respond to an outage. While we believe the eChannels approach was relatively strong an innovative for the time, it seems that the court has found that the response was still too slow.
The success of the social media response compared with the apparent failure of the ‘boots on the ground’ teams at ComEd (those working on the field to get electricity back on line) may point to a need for greater coordination between the social media team and other ComEd employers (perhaps through intraweb and better cellular communications during storm events) and may also speak to the ComEd leadership’s need to better invest in and divide up its limited resources to make sure that adequate personnel is available to both respond to the questions and concerns of the public and do the physical work needed to get the power back on.
Private vs. Public Utilities: Corporation v Bureaucracy
The Commonwealth Edison case highlights an important debate; whether or not public (government owned and controlled utilities) or private (corporate owned) utilities are better equipped to address the needs of utility consumers. In this case Commonwealth Edison successfully addressed its shortcoming in responding to early storms and outages during the summer of 2011 and implemented its eChannels plan in time for the July storm, which aided in its response which, though not perfect, was able to use social media to better listen to customer concerns.
It can be argued that government, which tends to be bureaucratic, slow moving and risk adverse, would not have implemented changes so quickly or would have been less willing to take risks of sharing or reporting false information on social media. This perception comes from the fact that government employees are beholden to their governing bodies and ultimately the voters.
While we tend to see private corporations as more independent this is not always the case. Under American corporations law a corporation owes certain fiduciary duties to its shareholders, meaning it cannot act against their interests of the shareholders. While we often think of corporations as risk taking entities in comparison to government entities, it is important to note that because of these fiduciary duties to shareholders some corporations can become just as risk adverse as government agency employees who are beholden executives within the agency and ultimately the voters of a community.
The apparent divide between public and private utilities may be cultural. Corporate culture values risk-takers while government culture values steadiness (according to the stereotype). Instead of making dramatic policy changes or changing all utilities to private utilities in response to Commonwealth Edison’s successes government actors should learn from this case and become more willing to take risks to better service their communities.
Another divide between corporate (private) and government (public) actors is economic resources. While not all companies have large budgets, companies like ComEd, one of the largest utilities in the region, can afford to invest in a social media department and hire a team whose job it is to explicitly focus on social media and reaching out to the public. This is a luxury that is not always available to public entities whose budgets are often derived from tax dollars and grants and cannot always invest the resources in an independent social media team and must instead give these tasks to persons who have additional jobs to complete.
Budget may be a key divide between public and private actors but social media tools like Facebook and Twitter help close that gap. However, devoting an entire team to monitor these feeds may be a luxury some actors will find difficult to obtain.