On the recent UN Report on Deaths of SyriaIn support of the United Nations, Benetech has just released a report on the est...
where people are reporting at the risk of their lives. We feel that the Benetech report “gets it”,        and understands ...
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On the recent UN Report on Deaths of Syria

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In support of the United Nations, Benetech has just released a report on the estimated number of deaths in Syria, which has reflected an exhaustive analysis of 7 different sources of casualty reporting within Syria, including our collaboration partners, Syrian Martyrs. We, at Syria Tracker (a project of Humanitarian Tracker), highly endorse the conclusions of this report, and the UN’s encouragement of such analysis after it was forced to stop collecting its own casualty figures nearly a year ago. This report has provided a very balanced analysis of both the strengths and limitations of crowd reporting data, and provides a blueprint for how such data can be used in the future.

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On the recent UN Report on Deaths of Syria

  1. 1. On the recent UN Report on Deaths of SyriaIn support of the United Nations, Benetech has just released a report on the estimated number ofdeaths in Syria, which has reflected an exhaustive analysis of 7 different sources of casualty reportingwithin Syria, including our collaboration partners,Syrian Martyrs. We, atSyria Tracker (a project of Humanitarian Tracker),highly endorse the conclusions of this report, and the UN’s encouragement of such analysis after it was forced to stop collecting its own casualty figures nearly a year ago. This report has provided a very balanced analysis of both the strengths and limitations of crowd reporting data, and provides a blueprint for how such data can be used in the future. There are several key conclusions in this report that can increase theunderstanding of anyone accessing data from Syria Tracker or similar sites: TheOverall Number of Deaths listed by most sites may be greatly underreported:From the period of March 2011 through November 2012, many of the non-government reporting sites have come up with casualty figures in the 40,000 range. One of the most interesting findings in the Benetech report is that, when comparing reports of named individuals, there were overlaps, and more importantly, gaps between the different sources, often by geographic region. The conclusion was that nearly 60,000 deaths have occurred. Extreme Violence can reduce the number of deaths reported:The report has also identified potential effects of violence on reporting networks within the country. For example, we noticed a drop of reported deaths in the final siege/assault in Bab Amar, which may have been underreported due to the deaths of witnesses or citizen reporters. We would also suspect underreporting in regions such as DayrAzZor, where there may have been less access to satellite communications equipment. Each Site may have its own biases: It is realistic to assume that the data from each organization may have its own biases, including its methodology for collecting data. Anti-government sites may not consider it their duty to record deaths among government troops or revenge killings against government sympathizers. The government source may not wish to reveal the full extent of casualties among its troops, and would also not wish to report on collateral deaths among civilians. We welcome Benetech report’s open-minded approach in applying analysis across sources. Crowdmapped Data isn’t perfect, but it is better than nothing:At Syria Tracker we must admit that we’ve been puzzled when some people have critiqued our data as being prone to bias, and suffers from a lack of academic rigor in the collection. However, once one steps outside the classroom, it is necessary to confront the realities of a constrained data collection environmentinfo@humanitariantracker.org | http://www.humanitariantracker.org
  2. 2. where people are reporting at the risk of their lives. We feel that the Benetech report “gets it”, and understands both the value and limitations of crowdmapped data. For all of its limitations, the fact that SOME data is coming through in near-real time is a major breakthrough. One can only wonder what might have happened if similar reporting was possible in Bosnia, Rwanda, or even during the Holocaust. In addition to drawing attention the tools (mobile and web technology) used to collect crowdmapped data, we also need more attention drawn to determining the best analytical approaches to drawing reliable conclusions from the data. The methodology used in the Benetech report seems indeed a useful one. From Syria Tracker, you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg:Although we don’t make claims of having “the definitive count”, the death reports we release from Syria Tracker have been subjected to a great deal of cross checking and de-duplication. We tend only to include reports of named individuals, or those where a media record is provided. Only 6% of citizenreports that we receive directly (via email, web-form, twitter, etc.) have been published publicly. A signification portion of those that have not are not duplicates, but rather ones that we’ve not had the time or resources to verify. We are keeping these, as well as the results of the social media mining and web crawling capabilities we have implemented, in order to document the most comprehensive portrait possible. It is our hope that, when investigation is possible after a regime change, that our records can be pooled with those of other efforts to help assemble the most complete record possible. We feel that the analysis performed by Benetech provides an excellent start in that direction.We invite you to read this report by Benetech, and welcome any questions you may have about the datathat comes from Syria Tracker. We have been making “row level” data available from this site untilrecently, but with the increasing amount of data, we are redesigning how we share it. In the meantime,please contact us if you wish access to our data for your own analysis, and we can arrange something.We are also providing data in Shapefiles at our site if you wish to load it into a Geospatial InformationSystem, and in KML if you wish to download it or view it in Google Earth.info@humanitariantracker.org | http://www.humanitariantracker.org

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