The discourse surrounding open-source mapping technologies in disaster relief: Negative implications of ideological projections in the discourse around OpenStreetMap in the aftermath of disasters
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In recent disaster relief, open-source mapping technologies are increasingly being used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies. They show their trust in these technologies by relying on them to mobilize their services in crisis situations. In general, relying heavily on technology is already a risk, and that risk is amplified in a situation like a crisis. The possibly problematic ideological projections onto technologies in disaster relief call for a proper intervention. This research aims to further expose how discourse works. This is done by investigating the discourse around open-source mapping in the context of disaster relief. To investigate how discourse works, a close reading is done of the technology platform Wired, which has the motives to promote a rather positive idea of the role of open-source technologies in disaster relief. This platform is the perfect place to look for statements that can be understood as typical expressions of a Technological Imaginary (TI), a concept that can be tied to utopian schools of thought. The analysis concludes that open-source mapping technologies are presented as liberating and an improvement from previously used disaster relief methods. The Wired articles express their belief in the potential of these technologies. The role of the amateur is eulogized. Statements express ideologies tied to deterritorialization and global information communities. Open-source technologies in disaster relief are presented as better than its predecessors. The statements made in the Wired articles actively neglect or hide negative expressions and implications of these technologies. The analysis also exposes what is not being said and what implications of open-source mapping technologies are not discussed to show issues that may result from TI discourse. Within the discourse, the quality of OSM data is not being questioned although research shows that there are problems with the accuracy and validity of data. This exposes that OSM is not as liberating as argued in the discourse. Moreover, OSM is not that easy to use which may result in false interpretation due to limited knowledge of its contributors. Furthermore, the global and local digital divide, indicating problems resulting from difference in access and knowledge, usually grows when disasters strike. The control is given to people who are not on site and who cannot visually assess the situation; this exposes shortcomings of the liberating potential of the technologies. These factors limit the liberating potential that is promoted in the Wired articles. Furthermore, this new technology also results in new problems that were not present in older disaster relief methods. The constant flow of data leads to problems with information management. Moreover, decentralization of power can lead to lack of centralized decision-making and bad strategies in disaster relief. This thesis concludes that hopes and beliefs can result in problematic projections onto technologies. By exposing discourse and how it works, this research was able to provide a good starting point for future research in detecting ideological components in journalistic discourse and critically reflecting on them. Furthermore, it may also help scholars to identify methods used to shape discourse and will give them a more critical view on the sources they use and motives of their authors.