Researchers at RMIT are exploring how to harness the unprecedented power of social media for dealing with crises and driving change.
Dr Marta Poblet Balcell and Dr John Postill bring international experience and fresh perspectives to their work as Vice-Chancellor's Senior Research Fellows at RMIT.
Dr Poblet focuses on the use of social media in disasters and crisis situations.
With the proliferation of social media, more and more of the first responders to a crisis are turning to Twitter and Facebook to disseminate vital information.
Dr Poblet examines the ways crisis organisations can use this information to focus rescue efforts and emergency relief through the use of geomapping.
"I see a future where a combination of social media and geomobile technologies will have a major impact on crisis management," she says.
"People will be able to update their status during a crisis by providing really granular real time information so that volunteers and aid organisations will immediately sense them, map them and respond."
A key component of the research lies in assessing the legal and ethical consequences for those participating in these efforts.
With human right organisations currently taking steps to make phone footage admissible for evidence in witnessing human rights violations, Dr Poblet questions whether similar testimony should be used in the context of a crisis situation.
"Not all information is always credible, so where are the limits of verification and where are the limits of trust in social media?" she says.
Dr Poblet has enlisted the collaboration of computer scientists, lawyers, geographers and designers to conduct further research into social media databases and how this information can be used ethically and effectively to assist in crisis management by emergency organisations.
Prior to her move to the Graduate School of Business and Law, she was based at the Autonomous University of Barcelona's Institute of Law and Technology.
Dr Poblet is excited by the opportunity to be part of a connected university.
"I applied for an RMIT Fellowship because I sensed that this university had an inter-disciplinary culture and was a very dynamic space where people could contribute from different perspectives," she says.
"In practical terms, I think it is important to have a research cluster where people can contribute on a daily basis with other people, be they PhD students or colleagues from different departments.
"I couldn't imagine a better place to develop my research."
Also developing connections between the digital and the real is Dr John Postill, based in the Media and Communication.
Dr Postill has travelled the globe investigating how activist communities use social media to drive social and political change.
"I'm interested in people I'm calling Freedom Technologists - those who combine technological and socio-political skills to pursue greater internet and democratic freedoms," he says.
Dr Postill studies closely how this group congregate and collaborate through projects, networks and organisations.
Through immersive research, he seeks to explore the connection between such interaction and the genesis of new forms of protest and civic engagement.
"I undertake ethnographic research - qualitative research involving participating in people's lives and understanding what people actually do with digital media out there," he says.
"There are two aspects to this, one is actually being there physically on the ground, but in addition to interviewing people, you try in some cases to shadow people and take part in their daily lives."
As a member of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre, Dr Postill relishes the opportunity to further his research in collaboration with other experts in the field.
"At RMIT we have a very high concentration of ethnographers who work on digital media questions," he says.
"It is a vibrant research culture, partly because it's new and happening now. It's a research culture where you have the opportunity to bring your own contribution to it."
Dr Postill says he has certainly found a home at RMIT.
"I feel privileged to have got the VC Fellowship. RMIT has a really active international research culture, it's right next door to Indonesia and Melbourne is such a great city," he says.
"At the moment I couldn't imagine myself being anywhere else."
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