Welcome to Issue 4 of the Call to Comms!

This week marks the first year since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. It has been described as the first “social media war” (Forbes, 2022), with live news from civilians and soldiers, and refugees sharing their stories online. Even though social media has been used in other wars before, Ukraine is more connected than any other country that has been invaded so far. What is the impact of information and communication technologies on warfare? This week, TSF invited a professor to discuss refugees and their use of information technology.

💬 In this week's issue:

Living in the digital age of war


Humanitarians can use satellite imagery to monitor ongoing conflicts and track population movement. Moreover, geo-tagged social media posts allow us to learn more about what is happening during a disaster. Governments also use social media and technology to monitor activity: a recent study confirmed that Russian monitoring of social media has led to cases of civilian arrests. Social media can be a way of sharing information about the conflict – but do we always know who is talking, and what the message is behind what we read?

Information war

Russian officials have claimed on social media that the killing of civilians by the Russian military in the town of Buca was a hoax. In times of war, social media can be both a tool to spread propaganda and to counter it with fact-checking. Misinformation also has an impact on the lives of civilians, which is why it is so important to have access to reliable information. This is why in Poland we display reliable information on connected screens in refugee centers. Finally, the unprecedented amount of content online will undoubtedly shape the way we view the war in Ukraine in the future.

The impact on the rest of the world

The mass sharing of content on social media can make us feel like everybody’s watching but nobody’s doing anything to change something, even those in power, which stun our responses. “Compassion fatigue” is a real problem on social media: in the face of intense suffering and injustice, maintaining a high level of empathy can be draining – and this is especially true for war.

As the Ukrainian war is coming to its first year, it’s imperative to be mindful of the information we encounter, and most importantly, keep on caring.

Meet Dr. Maitland: how do refugees use technology?

This week, The Call to Comms had the pleasure to talk to Dr. Carleen Maitland about refugees and their use of technology. Dr. Maitland is a professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University, and researches information technology use in organizations providing humanitarian assistance. Below the video is a snippet of our discussion:

TSF: What are the main ways refugees use technology?

Dr. Maitland: When [refugees] arrive in a refugee camp or settlement, they've moved, they may need to find health care providers, they may need to find social services, they may need to arrange for their children to go to school.

And in some cases, because many refugee settlements are geographically located in remote regions, typically close to borders, sometimes the connectivity that is available is limited.

That can be one of the first challenges that both the aid organizations and the refugees themselves face, the lack of connectivity.

TSF: Do information and communication technologies have an impact on refugees’ access to information?

Dr. Maitland: I think it is important that aid agencies, host communities and host governments understand the potential negative impacts that misinformation, disseminated through information and communication technologies, can cause.

People are very susceptible to [rumors], especially when they're displaced because of the normal social networks that they may use to triangulate and validate the information. You know, you say, “Oh, I heard this online”. You might ask your neighbors, you might ask your family: “Hey, have you heard this? Do you think this is real?”. But when your neighbors are unknown to you, and your family is no longer around you, how do you validate information that you see online?

I think this is an area where we need to understand the kind of intersection of displacement, social disconnection caused by displacement and information validation.

TSF: How can access to mobile phones and connectivity help build a sense of community for refugees?

Dr. Maitland: There are opportunities, particularly with less affluent refugees who may need to share their mobile phones; that mobile phone sharing can help.

People might see somebody struggling with mobile phone use. They might ask to share. And so it helps bring people together because of their shared need for information through this medium.

🗞 Latest news from TSF, our partners and the humanitarian web

  • Cyclone Freddy approaching Madagascar and Mauritius. TSF is monitoring the cyclone approaching Madagascar and is in contact with the local response mechanism managed by the National Office for the Management of Risks and Disasters( BNGRC). Classes have been cancelled and TSF's IT Cup Centre in Miarinarivo will adapt its program for security reasons.
  • Earthquake replicas in Turkey. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Antakya on February, 20. TSF is still supporting organizations such as UOSSM in Syria through access to connectivity. We give updates here.
  • Emergency telecommunications training in Vietnam. TSF finalized its training sessions and workshops on emergency telecommunications in the ASEAN-ERAT Induction Course in South-East Asia with the AHA Centre.
  • Inmarsat confirms launch of its new satellite. Following up from last week, Inmarsat succesfully launched its satellite I-6 F2, which aims to update global coverage services. You can see the launch in video here.

Access to Internet is essential for refugees

Syrian children refugees using tech devices to support their education.
“We don’t do anything here. Just wait and pray. I want to work, I want to live. I want to do something. And this is why it is important to have internet. Because it allows us to be distracted, at least a little bit, and to be in touch with friends and family. (...) People need it. We would go crazy otherwise.” Fatimada, 38 year old Congolese refugee, in the Lesvos’ refugees camp.

Drawing from our past and present missions, we believe access to the Internet is extremely important for refugees. Refugees’ living conditions can exacerbate needs everyone has, such as keeping contact with loved ones, accessing information and education, and the need for distraction. Read our article for more information and testimonials from refugees we’ve talked to throughout the years.