Find Meaning on Social Media
How to stop doom scrolling
In March 2021, students and staff from UC Berkeley’s Investigations Lab gathered in a Zoom room—physically separate due a spike in COVID-19, but together online—each square on their screens a glimpse into the others’ private pandemic worlds. However, unlike most Zoom calls, they weren’t talking to or even looking at each other. Each was busy scanning the internet, scrolling through amateur videos and photos that had been posted to websites like Facebook and Twitter. The images showed real-time horrors unfolding in Myanmar: a young man riding with two friends on a motorbike on a quiet street, suddenly ripped by a bullet. A body flung into the back of a truck. Wailing family members beseeching someone, anyone, to account for their loss.
These students are part of a growing community of digital researchers who gather potential evidence of genocide, war crimes, and human rights violations from the internet, sometimes thousands of miles from the sites of atrocity.
Since 2016, the Investigations Lab we founded at the Human Rights Center, a multi-disciplinary research institution on the UC Berkeley campus, has trained hundreds of students how to search social media for information about possible human rights violations. We founded the Lab to create a pipeline of professionals with the latest research skills, but also to support the work of journalists, human rights researchers and lawyers who may not have the training or time to find reliable data online to strengthen their investigations.
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