Lecture Counting the Uncounted by Airwars
2 May 2019 19:30 - 21:00
Counting the uncounted: Combining crowd and open source intelligence to report civilians deaths in war. The lecture will explore how recent wars, in particular the international fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, are being extensively documented by civilians, militants and state militaries via social media. Taking Airwars' recent collaboration with Amnesty International as our focus, we will discuss how social media is being used to track civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, combining remote monitoring with crowdsourcing and field investigations.
In 2017 the US military called researchers at the small conflict monitor, Airwars, to ask if they had a copy of a video posted on a social media network months earlier by so-called Islamic State. The video could provide new information on an alleged civilian harm event but no one in the world's largest military, it seemed, had a copy. Censors had been so successful in pursuing the video that, like millions of others, it had been taken offline without a trace.
The talk will explore how recent wars, in particular the international fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, are the first to be extensively documented en masse by civilians, militants and state militaries alike - all uploading content to the internet in near real-time. Despite populating the same social media platforms, these first hand testimonies of violence often go unseen by European users.
Taking as our focus, Airwars recent collaboration with Amnesty International that combined remote monitoring with crowdsourcing and field investigations, we will be discuss how social media is being instrumentalised to track civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria. We will ask how this has challenged the dominant narrative that the fight against ISIS - in which the Dutch played an active role - has been the "most precise war in history"? And, question the difficulties of working with a historic record threatened by erasure.
At the time of writing, the US-led Coalition has admitted to causing 1,257 civilian deaths during its four and a half year military campaign. Conversely, by remotely listening to local communities, Airwars has recorded over 28,000 alleged deaths - and places the minimum number of civilians likely killed by Coalition air and artillery strikes at 7,500 to 12,000. The Dutch state has ceded responsibility for three civilian harm incidents, however, will not say where, when or how many people were killed.
For these reason, civilians who have died in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have been called the "uncounted". What does it take to count the uncounted - to defend the dead?
Working as a researcher at Airwars, Hanna Rullmann focuses mainly on geolocation and currently works closely with the Amnesty Crisis Response Team on archiving and visualising the Battle of Raqqa. Hanna recently completed a Masters at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University, and prior to that worked as a researcher and graphic designer in The Netherlands.
As a researcher at Airwars, Sophie Dyers advocacy work focuses on the reconciliation of the civilian casualty database with belligerent reporting, via direct engagement, analysis and modelling. She led the redesign of Airwars' public archive and recently worked with Amnesty International to investigate the civilian deaths during the 2017 Battle of Raqqa. Sophie studied at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, and has a background in Visual Communication. Prior to Airwars, she worked as a researcher and designer with Forensic Architecture amongst others.
Architecture and Investigative Journalism
A lecture and workshop series on architecture and investigative journalism, curated by Alison Killing together with Het Nieuwe Instituut. The program gives an overview of the current state of this emerging field through a series of talks by leading practitioners; develops practical skills through in-depth workshops; and builds professional links between architects and journalists to enable future collaborations.
Architectural and spatial analysis tools have been critical in a series of recent groundbreaking investigative journalism projects: from the New York Times investigation into last year's mass shooting in Las Vegas, to Bellingcat's investigation into who was responsible for the shooting down of the MH17 flight over Ukraine, to Forensic Architecture and Forensic Oceanography's work on search and rescue for migrants in the southern Mediterranean. These tools enable investigations to be carried out that would not have been possible in the past. While Architecture could be an asset to journalism, two circumstances stand in the way of these approaches being adopted more widely - the two professional groups often don't interact, and there is a (relatively small) skill gap that needs to be bridged. This series addresses both conditions.
The architecture, investigative journalism and documentary series will explore how an architect's skills (design, ability to think in three dimensions, technical drawing and 3d modelling, visual representation and analysis) can be used to support journalistic and documentary practice - to investigate and tell stories that are in the public interest. The series, starting in spring 2019, will cover the range of activities involved in investigating and communicating a story, from gathering evidence, to its processing, analysis and communication. For each event, a world-class practitioner will be invited to give an evening lecture, followed by a hands-on workshop to share tools and methods with students and professionals in relevant fields - architects, digital designers, journalists and documentary makers, among others.
This project is supported by the Creative Industries Fund NL
Before the Thursday Night you can grab a bite to eat with the speakers and staff of Het Nieuwe Instituut. At 18:00 Het Nieuwe Café will serve a light vegetarian meal. Dinner vouchers are available for ¬ 7.70 up to a day before the particular Thursday Night event via the Tickets link.
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