Monthly Archives: June 2013

June 28, 2013 | News, Statements

The Internet Association Statement on the PATENT Jobs Act (H.R. 2582)

The Internet Association thanks Reps. Eshoo (D-CA), Honda (D-CA), and Lofgren (D-CA) for their introduction of H.R. 2582, the “PATENT Jobs Act.” To curb abusive patent litigation that harms the economy and slows the pace of innovation, the Patent and Trademark Office must first ensure that it issues only valid, high-quality patents. Subjecting the PTO funds to sequestration threatens this core mission of the Office.

Unlike most other federal agencies and offices, the PTO funds its own operations through user fees. By ensuring that the PTO has full access to its own resources to conduct meaningful review of patent applications, the PATENT Jobs Act will reduce the number of vague, overbroad, or otherwise flawed patents granted by the PTO. More work needs to be done to solve the problem with abusive patent litigation, but this legislation makes an important contribution to that effort.

 

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June 28, 2013 | ICYMI, News

ICYMI- Tom Manatos Getting Ready to Make Tech History

Politico
Tom Manatos getting ready to make tech history  
Posted 6/28/13 12:01 AM EDT

Tom Manatos has the sort of Beltway résumé that probably could land him a gig as a lobbyist on just about any issue.

He chose tech.

Tom Manatos is pictured. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

“I’ve worked on health care, on immigration, on the environment,” said the 33-year-old earlier this month on his third day as director of government affairs for the nascent Internet Association. “But when I’m done with this career, what is going to make me say, ‘OK, I had a mark on history. I helped change something. I had a big role in that.’ That’s the tech industry.”

He might make his mark sooner than he thinks given several topics high on IA’s agenda are already on the front burner in Congress. His immediate goal is to protect the H-1B visa increases in the Senate immigration package and to take advantage of new patent reform momentum spurred by President Barack Obama’s package of executive orders and legislative recommendations to curb abusive litigation.

“While Congress isn’t getting a whole lot done, on our issues there’s a lot happening,” said Manatos, who reports to Gina Woodworth, IA vice president of public policy and government affairs. “I’m not naive to the fact that a lot of things take many Congresses to accomplish, but on our issues things are happening.”

Manatos knows from “many Congresses.” At 16, the Bethesda, Md., native served as a page for Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who represents his home state. He was on Tipper Gore’s advance team during the 2000 election — “I was the second-youngest paid staffer” — and interned for then-Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) in 2001. That summer, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched parties, handing control of the chamber to Democrats and the helm of the Banking Committee to Sarbanes. Manatos, at 21, became the committee’s acting deputy press secretary for four months.

Next came nine years as an aide for California Democrat Nancy Pelosi and 18 months at the Democratic National Committee under Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

“Tom understands how the process in Washington works,” IA CEO Michael Beckerman said. “A lot of people are policy experts, but they don’t understand how a bill becomes a law and sometimes, more importantly, how a bill doesn’t become a law.”

While Beckerman insisted it wasn’t a factor in the hire, it doesn’t hurt Manatos that his wife, Dana, and her brother are prominent Republicans who worked in the Bush White House. Manatos half-joked he was probably the “only person who has worked for Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the Bush Library opening.”

Manatos isn’t just a lobbyist for tech interests — he’s also a serendipitous startup guy himself. The Tom Manatos Job List grew out of his informal daily emails on politics-related openings for Democrats to become a popular nonpartisan subscription service.

Those efforts to find the middle ground in a highly polarized Washington bode well for Manatos as a lobbyist, Beckerman said. And Manatos noted that tech policy may be one of the last areas that is less tainted by intense partisanship anyway.

“It doesn’t matter how conservative or how progressive and liberal a district you come from,” he said. “You’re going to find many, many businesses and users who care about these issues and don’t want overregulation of the Internet or the ability to be innovative to be harmed because of legislation coming from here.”

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June 27, 2013 | News, Press Releases, Statements

Immigration Reform Empowers America’s Economic Future

INTERNET ASSOCIATION APPLAUDS SENATE BILL’S PASSAGE

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of the Internet Association issued the following statement lauding the Senate’s passage of The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744):

“Today’s passage of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act marks a momentous step in our nation’s history. The Internet Association applauds members of the Senate for their commitment and strong bipartisan efforts in crafting a legislative solution for our broken immigration system. By implementing a functioning system, this bill empowers our nation to retain the best and brightest minds that come to the United States and create economic value here at home.

“Far too often, our current immigration system bars high-skilled workers with expertise in the STEM fields from making vital contributions to our economy and instead exports these workers to competing global markets. By increasing the number of available H-1B work visas,expanding the green card program, and eliminating current obstacles, this bill will ensure that America remains an economic powerhouse in the global landscape.

“Knowing that these are complicated discussions well beyond the area of high skilled workforce issues, we commend members of the Senate for dedicating their time and focus to work across party lines to achieve a balanced and effective solution for a very serious problem in our country.”

 

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June 25, 2013 | News, Press Releases

Practice Fusion Joins The Internet Association

FASTEST-GROWING EMR STARTUP IS THE FIRST HEALTH CARE INTERNET COMPANY TO JOIN THE ASSOCIATION

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Internet Association, the unified voice of the Internet economy, is pleased to announce that Practice Fusion has joined its association of global industry leaders including Airbnb, Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Gilt, Google, IAC, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Path, Rackspace, salesforce.com, SurveyMonkey, TripAdvisor, Yahoo!, and Zynga.

Practice Fusion, the largest physician-patient platform in the US, is one of the fastest-growing players in the health technology space. With a free electronic medical record (EMR) system for doctors, Practice Fusion’s life-saving technology has grown to now manage 65 million patients across the US. It provides medical offices scheduling, charting, e-prescribing, lab integrations, referral letters and mobile access – all at no cost to medical professionals. The EMR has made a significant impact on the healthcare economy by preventing medical errors and adding efficiency through data-driven technology.

”Practice Fusion’s technology has already played a pivotal role in helping small and medium sized medical practices thrive through changes in the healthcare landscape,” said Ryan Howard, Founder and CEO of Practice Fusion. “As our technology platform has expanded to serve patients and health researchers, we see our voice in the policy spectrum becoming even more crucial. Our partnership with The Internet Association helps us work together with technology leaders to ensure that the marketplace is not only robust for all industries but also safe, secure and private for its users.”

“The Internet provides value in every sector of the economy, and health care is no exception. Practice Fusion’s innovative and easy to use service makes health care delivery more accurate, efficient and effective for providers, insurers, and patients,” said Michael Beckerman, The Internet Association President and CEO. “Poorly-planned oversight in the health IT space could be detrimental to the innovation and development of critical health care infrastructure and delivery components. Digital health care records are an indispensable part of the future of health care. Start-ups like Practice Fusion understand how fragile this new space is, and we welcome their narrative as we educate policymakers that their constituents are Internet health care patients and that Internet policy is important to our health care economic future.”

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June 19, 2013 | News, Press Releases

The Internet Association Welcomes Gilt

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Internet Association, the unified voice of the Internet economy, is excited to announce that Gilt has joined its growing list of industry leaders. The Internet Association welcomes Gilt to collaborate on discussions around Internet policies and procedures with member companies including Airbnb, Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Google, IAC, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Path, Rackspace, salesforce.com, SurveyMonkey, TripAdvisor, Yahoo!, and Zynga.

Founded in 2007, Gilt, www.gilt.com, is an innovative online shopping destination offering its members special access to the most inspiring merchandise and experiences every day at insider prices. Gilt pioneered “flash sales” in the United States and today is one of the leaders in the flash-sale space. Gilt continually searches the world for the most coveted brands and products, including fashion for women, men, and children; home decor; and unique activities in select cities and destinations. Its business is driving economic growth across the globe for fashion, design, home goods and experiences.

“Gilt has transformed the way millions of people shop,” said Gilt’s Chief Legal and People Officer, Kathy Leo. “By merging lifestyle brands and technology, we are constantly aiming to drive the next wave of excitement in e-commerce, which is uniquely possible, online. We are excited to partner with The Internet Association and its member companies to work to address policy issues that affect all of us.”

“Gilt’s vibrant community of members enjoy an impressive collection of luxurious products and experiences,” said Michael Beckerman, The Internet Association President and CEO. “E-commerce and strong open Internet policies are critical to their business model. Online shopping is how millions of Americans purchase products. Gilt is a leader in that space, and we welcome them to our team as we educate policymakers that their constituents are Internet consumers and that Internet policy is important to our economy.”

 

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June 18, 2013 | ICYMI, News

ICYMI- A Seat at the Table

The Hill
A seat at the table
Posted: 06/18/13 09:00 AM EDT

The top lobbyist for the Internet industry says it’s his job to prevent a repeat of the 2012 Internet blackout protest over anti-piracy legislation.

That protest, which included popular websites Google, Wikipedia and Reddit, was one of the most successful political advocacy efforts in history. In one day, the blackout forced lawmakers to drop legislation backed by the entertainment industry that, only a few weeks earlier, had seemed set to sail through Congress.

But Michael Beckerman, the CEO of the newly formed Internet Association, said the protest was only necessary because the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act posed such serious threats to the Internet. It’s his job, he explained, to convince lawmakers not to even consider similar legislation in the future.

“Our measure of success would be that never comes up again because members of Congress are paying attention; they understand that our companies matter, our users matter and that our sector of the economy is unique,” he said in an interview with The Hill in his office in Washington, adding that he will ensure that the Internet industry has a “seat at the table.”

Even before the protests over SOPA, Internet companies, including Google and Facebook, had discussed forming a new lobbying group focused on Internet issues. Although those companies belong to other Washington-based lobby groups such as TechAmerica and the Information Technology Industry Council, those associations represent the broader technology industry, including device-makers and software companies.

Beckerman explained that the interests and policy positions of Web companies don’t always match those of other tech companies. Many software firms, for example, have pushed for tougher enforcement of anti-piracy laws.

Beckerman was recruited to lead the new Internet lobbying group last year, and the Internet Association formally launched in September.

As a longtime House aide and deputy staff director for Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Beckerman had focused mostly on energy issues, according to Mike Ference, a lobbyist and former House Republican staffer.

“I think everyone was surprised he would jump over and go in the tech space,” Ference said. “But he’s built out a sizable and powerful organization in a very short period of time.”

Beckerman acknowledged that Silicon Valley has a liberal reputation, but he said that being both a Republican and their top lobbyist hasn’t been an issue for him.

“This industry has become very bipartisan,” Beckerman said, noting that both parties stated support for Internet freedom in their 2012 platforms.

He explained that setting up a new lobbying shop was a lot like starting a small business. He had to write the organization’s bylaws, hire an accounting firm to deal with the financial details and find office space.

“We had to go through the steps just like a small business or an Internet startup,” Beckerman said. “It was interesting starting this group because it’s a [familiar] situation for many of our companies where they started with one person in someone’s garage or they started with a couple guys in a dorm room.”

Before he secured the group’s office, he worked from his kitchen table. And before they bought furniture, his office consisted of a laptop on a box and a coffee maker.

The group started with 14 members and now has 16 with more to come, Beckerman said. Almost all of the largest Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, eBay and LinkedIn have signed on.

Despite the fact that the group hasn’t been around long, Beckerman said he hasn’t had any problems gaining respect and access on Capitol Hill.

“It’s not hard to go up to the Hill and say, ‘Hey, we represent the Internet, you know our companies, can we come in and talk to you about something?’ Of course they want to talk to us about it,” he said. “People are interested.”

One of the top issues for the Internet Association is protecting users’ privacy from government snooping. The group is lobbying Congress to update a 1986 privacy law to require police to obtain a warrant before accessing email accounts and other online information.

“If the government needs a warrant to get a letter out of your mailbox or if the government needs a warrant to go into your house and open your filing cabinet, we think they should need the same to get your email or your cloud storage,” Beckerman said.

The Internet Association is also opposed to a proposal that would require Web companies to make it easier for police to wiretap their services.

Beckerman declined to comment on the recent revelation that the National Security Agency is obtaining data on Internet users through a program called PRISM. The CEOs of the major companies have released public statements emphasizing their commitment to privacy and saying they have not given the NSA direct access to their servers or turned over massive batches of user information.

Internet companies rely on their customers’ trusting them with their most sensitive personal information. If people stop believing their information is being protected, they are less likely to use the online service.

Although protecting users’ privacy from the government is a top priority for the Internet Association, the group takes a different view of proposals to impose privacy protection standards on the companies themselves.

President Obama has called on Congress to pass comprehensive privacy protection legislation, and the Federal Trade Commission has said users should be able to opt out of online tracking.

But Beckerman argued that users should be able to pick the services they want and that companies are already transparent about how they handle people’s personal information.

“It’s not for Congress to get in and micromanage that relationship [between company and user],” Beckerman said. “Because if they do, it’s going to kill the next Facebook. It’s going to kill the next Google.”

Although his member companies see eye to eye on most issues, one major division has emerged: Amazon and eBay are in the midst of a lobbying war against each other over legislation that would empower states to tax online purchases. Beckerman explained that because there is no consensus among his members on the legislation, his group will sit out the fight.

One fight that the Internet Association is involved in, along with other tech groups, is pushing for immigration legislation that allows more high-skilled workers to come to the United States. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recruited other Silicon Valley executives to a separate political advocacy group, called Fwd.us, focused on immigration legislation.

Beckerman denied that that Zuckerberg’s group is stealing attention from the Internet Association, saying the two groups have a “cooperative relationship.”

The Internet Association plans to launch a new website to get Internet users and activists involved in its causes. The group will also soon expand beyond its staff of seven employees and will likely need to look for new office space, Beckerman said.

“Our companies are significant players in the economy,” he said. “We’re new; it’s a new part of the economy, but they’re here to stay.”

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To read the original article, click here.

June 12, 2013 | Op-Eds

The Future of the Global Economy Depends on the U.S.-EU Trade Deal

The Huffington Post Blog
The Future of the Global Economy Depends on the U.S.-EU Trade Deal
Posted:  07/12/2013 11:29

The future of the global economy is at stake. With both the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU) economies generating over $15.6 trillion in GDP and accounting for about half of the entire world GDP, we must pay close attention to negotiations for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Slated to be the largest trade deal ever negotiated once completed, TTIP would not only spur economic growth and job creation in the U.S. and the EU but also serve as a blueprint for future negotiations between third country trading partners. Given the magnitude of this trade deal, the Internet Association urges the U.S. and EU to incorporate policies that sustain the Internet industry’s future — a proven catalyst for economic growth.

Reaching 2 billion users across the globe and facilitating about 8 trillion dollars in e-commerce annually, the Internet affords market access to new competitors and revolutionizes daily transactions. Once dominated by traditional industries, small and mid-sized businesses now have the ability, because of the Internet, to participate in the global market. A McKinsey Global Institute study found that small and mid-sized enterprises reap significant benefits from Internet use. More specifically, the total revenue shares earned from small and mid-sized exports that utilized the Internet was more than twice that of others.

The flourishing Internet economy, which the global economy relies upon, is made possible by laws that preserve the vitality of an open, consumer-oriented platform. U.S. and EU negotiators must ensure that TTIP reflects this modernized landscape by enacting policies that encourage growth in the Internet industry and ultimately across global markets.

First, being able to access information or transfer data no matter the country where the information originated allows businesses in every sector to flourish. From instant communication to prompting real-time responses in business operations, providing businesses with the capacity to share data across borders increases efficiency and productivity.  Free flowing data also plays an important role in a company’s ability to innovate by creating an open, collaborative environment. Despite these benefits, many governments have adopted restrictive policies preventing the free flow of information. Historically, the European Union falls under this category of taking a prescriptive approach to data flows. The EU policy is to restrict international data flows unless there is a legitimate reason to free its data — which is the opposite approach taken by the U.S.

Recent developments regarding the National Security Agency’s programs may complicate the TTIP negotiations; however, The Internet Association and our member companies believe that enabling cross border data flows does not eliminate privacy or compromise data protection. Already, efforts such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) are addressing the issue of balancing privacy without unduly burdening cross border data flows. TTIP presents an opportunity for the world’s leading economies to commit to a workable, flexible framework that will be sustainable for the vitality of our global economic future.

Second, we encourage the U.S. government to revise its IP agenda and promote the appropriate balance of copyright and trademark protection with strong, fair-use like principles. We appreciate the U.S. proposal to add balancing language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, but we ask that the government also support similar flexible elements and balances in TTIP if an IP chapter is included. Further, the Internet Association encourages the U.S. to protect online intermediaries from third-party liability, which has allowed for the successful growth of Internet companies in the U.S.

Lastly, we call on both governments to ensure that TTIP negotiations are as open and as transparent as possible, particularly if the agreement includes a copyright component. Given the potential economic benefits and this changing landscape where an Internet user can engage in commerce in the same way as a multi-national corporation, consumers have a strong interest in these negotiations and deserve to know the details as this process develops.

The Internet industry increasingly harnesses a large percentage of advanced economies’ GDP. As trading partners enter into deals, these economies must ensure that Internet-friendly policies are incorporated not just for the benefit of the Internet industry but also for the benefit of their market, citizens, and their economic future. Negotiators must take this opportunity to craft a trade deal worthy of our modern economy.

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June 7, 2013 | Op-Eds

Hammond and Beckerman: How Patent Trolls are Chewing into Your Wallet

Dallas News
Hammond and Beckerman: How patent trolls are chewing into your wallet
Posted: 6/7/2013 20:10:00

In April, Dallas-based Neiman Marcus became the newest target of a growing industry designed to cripple companies with litigation on the basis of undisclosed patent infringements. IP Nav, also a Dallas-based “company,” sent a letter to Neiman’s claiming patent infringement on unrevealed “valuable patents in the field of automation of application programs.”

IP Nav is referred to as a nonpracticing entity or patent assertion entity. These so-called patent trolls do not create any products of their own but merely exist to litigate or extract large licensing fees against operating companies. Now a fixture in patent litigation, patent trolls have been a drag on our economy, costing us jobs and putting a tax on our most innovative products and services. Rackspace, a San Antonio-based company, has referred to IP Nav as “one of the most notorious patent trolls in America.”

According to one estimate, trolls have cost the U.S. economy half a trillion dollars in the last 20 years, with over $320 billion of that economic loss occurring in just the last four years. Accounting for just 19 percent of patent litigation in 2006, these trolls now claim a majority of all patent litigation in the United States, a clear illustration that this problem is only getting worse.

While Neiman’s has the resources to challenge the validity of the IP Nav patent, and has done so by filing a lawsuit in federal court, many of our nation’s innovators and startups do not. A majority of targeted companies have annual revenues of less than $10 million. The pervasiveness of trolls and growing legal expenses associated with them can cause real pain and even put companies, particularly the little guys, out of business entirely.

The patent system was created “to promote progress of science and the useful arts.” However, in the fast-moving Internet and software-driven economy, we are witnessing the opposite: Patents are slowing innovation and serving the interests of exploitative trolls. Software and Internet patents in particular, are often vague, overly broad, and overlapping, which is why they are the weapon of choice for trolls. It would be prohibitively expensive and practically impossible for an innovative company to determine whether it may be infringing any one of the 1 million active U.S. software patents.

For example, starting in 2007, patent troll Soverain sued several companies asserting that adding an item to an online “shopping cart” and then “checking out” infringes on its patented technology, and as the patent-holder it was entitled to get a cut from every online sale.

The granting of such bogus patents has fueled patent trolls and has led to absurd lawsuits. Patent trolls have few assets, other than the questionable patents; they sustain themselves through litigation and by sucking millions of dollars out of consumers’ pockets each year.

Unfortunately, all of this frivolous litigation adds up. According to a recent study from respected law academic Robin Feldman and others, trolls now account for 56 percent of all patent litigation. Boston University economists estimate that patent trolls cost the economy more than $29 billion a year in direct costs and a whopping $83 billion in indirect costs. Trolls are hitting us right in our wallets.

There is no simple fix, but there are encouraging signs that policymakers understand the magnitude of the problem and want to help. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced the Patent Abuse Reduction Act, a key step forward in bringing patent litigation under control. It addresses some of the most egregious asymmetries head-on, requiring trolls to provide more specific information about the substance of their infringement assertions, to clearly identify themselves and co-owners, and to pay for unreasonable discovery, documentation required by the lawsuit, keeping legal costs down. We applaud Cornyn for his efforts in trying to bring the litigiously suppressed Texas business environment to Washington.

If policymakers want to send an unequivocal message to patent trolls, prompt action is needed now. Congress and the administration must act quickly to halt these bad actors from further burdening our economy, limiting consumer choice and having a negative impact on America’s future.

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June 7, 2013 | ICYMI, News

ICYMI- How Social Media Is Changing Disaster Response

Scientific American
How Social Media Is Changing Disaster Response
Posted Jun 7, 2013

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, Facebook was the new kid on the block. There was no Twitter for news updates, and the iPhone was not yet on the scene. By the time Hurricane Sandy slammed the eastern seaboard last year, social media had become an integral part of disaster response, filling the void in areas where cell phone service was lost while millions of Americans looked to resources including Twitter and Facebook to keep informed, locate loved ones, notify authorities and express support. Gone are the days of one-way communication where only official sources provide bulletins on disaster news.

Researchers have now started publishing data on the use of social media in disasters, and lawmakers and security experts have begun to assess how emergency management can best adapt. “The convergence of social networks and mobile has thrown the old response playbook out the window,” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, told the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications on June 4.

The new playbook will not do away with the emergency broadcast system and other government efforts. Rather, it will incorporate new data from researchers, federal agencies and nonprofits that have begun to reveal the exact penetration of social media in disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wrote in its 2013 National Preparedness report last week that during and immediately following Hurricane Sandy, “users sent more than 20 million Sandy-related Twitter posts, or “tweets,” despite the loss of cell phone service during the peak of the storm.” New Jersey’s largest utility company, PSE&G, said at the subcommittee hearing that during Sandy they staffed up their Twitter feeds and used them to send word about the daily locations of their giant tents and generators. “At one point during the storm, we sent so many tweets to alert customers, we exceeded the [number] of tweets allowed per day,” PSE&G’S Jorge Cardenas, vice president of asset management and centralized services, told the subcommittee.

Following the Boston Marathon bombings, one quarter of Americans reportedly looked to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for information, according to The Pew Research Center. The sites also formed a key part of the information cycle: when the Boston Police Department posted its final “CAPTURED!!!” tweet of the manhunt, more than 140,000 people retweeted it. Community members via a simpleGoogle document offered strangers lodging, food or a hot shower when roads and hotels were closed. Google also adapted its Person Finder from previous use with natural disasters.

Each disaster sparks its own complex web of fast-paced information exchange. That’s a good thing, says Mark Keim, associate director for science in the Office of Environmental Health Emergencies at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can both improve disaster response and allow affected populations to take control of their situation as well as feel empowered.

Drawing up an effective social media strategy and tweaking it to fit an emergency, however, is a crucial part of preparedness planning, says disaster sociologist Jeannette Sutton, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who studies social media in crises and disaster. For the Boston Marathon incident, she found no consistent hashtag on Twitter, which can make tracking relevant information difficult. Even searching for the word “Boston” may fall short, she says, because it could lead to unrelated matter like Boston tourism or fail to capture relevant tweets that did not include the word Boston.

As part of disaster preparedness, she says, it would be useful to teach the public how to use social media effectively, how to get information from the Web and also how to put out useful information. “Tweets flow so quickly it’s like a fire hose where you’re trying to extract bits of information that are relevant.”

All the fast-paced information available via social media does pose inherent risks when navigating emergency situations. One is the rapid spread of misinformation—as was the case after the Boston bombings with the identification of a missing man as a possible suspect. Although mistakes often get fixed via the “Wikipedia effect,” in which other users correct the errors, Sutton notes that false information can easily go viral.Rumor Control, run by FEMA, attempts to nip misinformation in the bud, but in general there are no clear lines about who has responsibility to police social media information or how—or even if—that would work.

Another key risk is scammers using social media to steal cash. Whereas the American Red Cross proved that new technologies can efficiently raise money for humanitarian assistance, generating more than $5 million via text message donations in the 48 hours following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the FBI has warned that social media can also be a lucrative platform for scam artists that crop up in the wake of tragedy. After the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, for example, the FBI arrested a woman who allegedly claimed to be the relative of a dead victim and solicited money via Facebook and other sources.

The Haiti earthquake is often pointed to as the watershed moment that changed how social media is used in disasters. Social media was independently evolving in the years leading up to 2010, but the size and inherent emotional appeal of that disaster created the right environment for it to flourish, says CDC’s Keim. “I think what we’re seeing now is the beginning of an age where its very difficult to predict what will be the next outlet [in disasters],” he says. “These things are spontaneous and meet unique needs in the same way that you couldn’t predict what app on your smartphone you may need or want in the next year.”

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June 7, 2013 | ICYMI, News

ICYMI- How Social Media Is Changing Disaster Response

Scientific American
How Social Media Is Changing Disaster Response
Posted: Jun 7, 2013

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, Facebook was the new kid on the block. There was no Twitter for news updates, and the iPhone was not yet on the scene. By the time Hurricane Sandy slammed the eastern seaboard last year, social media had become an integral part of disaster response, filling the void in areas where cell phone service was lost while millions of Americans looked to resources including Twitter and Facebook to keep informed, locate loved ones, notify authorities and express support. Gone are the days of one-way communication where only official sources provide bulletins on disaster news.

woman using cellphone

Researchers have now started publishing data on the use of social media in disasters, and lawmakers and security experts have begun to assess how emergency management can best adapt. “The convergence of social networks and mobile has thrown the old response playbook out the window,” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, told the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications on June 4.

The new playbook will not do away with the emergency broadcast system and other government efforts. Rather, it will incorporate new data from researchers, federal agencies and nonprofits that have begun to reveal the exact penetration of social media in disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wrote in its 2013 National Preparedness report last week that during and immediately following Hurricane Sandy, “users sent more than 20 million Sandy-related Twitter posts, or “tweets,” despite the loss of cell phone service during the peak of the storm.” New Jersey’s largest utility company, PSE&G, said at the subcommittee hearing that during Sandy they staffed up their Twitter feeds and used them to send word about the daily locations of their giant tents and generators. “At one point during the storm, we sent so many tweets to alert customers, we exceeded the [number] of tweets allowed per day,” PSE&G’S Jorge Cardenas, vice president of asset management and centralized services, told the subcommittee.

Following the Boston Marathon bombings, one quarter of Americans reportedly looked to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for information, according to The Pew Research Center. The sites also formed a key part of the information cycle: when the Boston Police Department posted its final “CAPTURED!!!” tweet of the manhunt, more than 140,000 people retweeted it. Community members via a simpleGoogle document offered strangers lodging, food or a hot shower when roads and hotels were closed. Google also adapted its Person Finder from previous use with natural disasters.

Each disaster sparks its own complex web of fast-paced information exchange. That’s a good thing, says Mark Keim, associate director for science in the Office of Environmental Health Emergencies at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can both improve disaster response and allow affected populations to take control of their situation as well as feel empowered.

Drawing up an effective social media strategy and tweaking it to fit an emergency, however, is a crucial part of preparedness planning, says disaster sociologist Jeannette Sutton, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who studies social media in crises and disaster. For the Boston Marathon incident, she found no consistent hashtag on Twitter, which can make tracking relevant information difficult. Even searching for the word “Boston” may fall short, she says, because it could lead to unrelated matter like Boston tourism or fail to capture relevant tweets that did not include the word Boston.

As part of disaster preparedness, she says, it would be useful to teach the public how to use social media effectively, how to get information from the Web and also how to put out useful information. “Tweets flow so quickly it’s like a fire hose where you’re trying to extract bits of information that are relevant.”

All the fast-paced information available via social media does pose inherent risks when navigating emergency situations. One is the rapid spread of misinformation—as was the case after the Boston bombings with the identification of a missing man as a possible suspect. Although mistakes often get fixed via the “Wikipedia effect,” in which other users correct the errors, Sutton notes that false information can easily go viral.Rumor Control, run by FEMA, attempts to nip misinformation in the bud, but in general there are no clear lines about who has responsibility to police social media information or how—or even if—that would work.

Another key risk is scammers using social media to steal cash. Whereas the American Red Cross proved that new technologies can efficiently raise money for humanitarian assistance, generating more than $5 million via text message donations in the 48 hours following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the FBI has warned that social media can also be a lucrative platform for scam artists that crop up in the wake of tragedy. After the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, for example, the FBI arrested a woman who allegedly claimed to be the relative of a dead victim and solicited money via Facebook and other sources.

The Haiti earthquake is often pointed to as the watershed moment that changed how social media is used in disasters. Social media was independently evolving in the years leading up to 2010, but the size and inherent emotional appeal of that disaster created the right environment for it to flourish, says CDC’s Keim. “I think what we’re seeing now is the beginning of an age where its very difficult to predict what will be the next outlet [in disasters],” he says. “These things are spontaneous and meet unique needs in the same way that you couldn’t predict what app on your smartphone you may need or want in the next year.”

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