The use of social media and digital technologies has radically changed the way that information about violence is captured, reported, analysed and acted upon. People’s use of social media played a significant role in the Egyptian revolution, post-election violence in Kenya, and drug-cartel violence in Mexico.
Social media can be used to provide humanitarian agencies, policymakers and academics seeking to understand and respond to violent crises with data unavailable from other sources. After an initial period of uncritical optimism regarding the potential of social media and digital technologies there is now, however, a growing recognition that they come with new practical, ethical and methodological limitations. Indeed, social media content is often the target of conscious distortions, manipulations, or censorship by a range of actors. Bias of several kinds can significantly distort social media data and reduce their representativeness.
This paper assesses the role of social media and digital technologies in the reporting of violent events, and evaluates their relative strengths and weaknesses as compared to other means available. It seeks to understand how social media and digital technology data are collated, how reliable the data are, and what practical and ethical issues are associated with their collection and use.