Humanitarian by Google Earth, Good or Bad?
By: Mike Jin
For the past ten years, Google Earth, a commonly used virtual map and geographic information program, has provided the millions of internet users with unprecedented amounts of information that was restricted to an elite few in the past. It not only allows common people to scan the world and find and visualize information in minutes that would take hours to compile in the past, but lets people immediately share news and information as well (The Economist 2007). Recently, it has even been used by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Amnesty International to publicize information on the genocide occurring in Darfur. Although doing this may seem like an ingenious way to incite global action in ending the conflict in Darfur, in reality, it is not as effective as people may think.
The first problem about using Google Earth to end disasters like the one in Darfur lies in the unlikelihood of the common people to take effective action. Crisis in Darfur, the Google Earth database layer (a layer is extra information that could be superimposed onto the virtual globe) that contains the location of the destroyed villages and buildings in Darfur, allows people to see the destruction in Darfur and even has a link that has shown more than 100,000 people where they can go to do more for Darfur (Graham 2010). However, unless the person is highly dedicated to humanitarian aid, they’re not likely to go on a public protest, write a letter to their congressman, or follow some of the other options given by the link. Even if the user chooses to donate money, corruption from corporate aid organizations might cause little of that money to actually reach the victims (Klein 2005). Thus, although knowing may be half the battle, nothing is going to change if nothing is done.
Furthermore, the Google Earth users may not be getting the up-to-date information from the satellite images. Contrary to what many Google Earth users may believe, the images on Google Earth are by no means recent. In fact, some of the images may be up to three years old! This is due to the positioning of the satellites in space. Each satellite is only able to take a picture of a small section of the globe at a time. The images are then pieced together by computer to from a visual representation of the globe (The Economist 2007). Thus, there may be more destroyed villages in Darfur than the ones represented on Crisis in Darfur that are not shown because of the date of the image taken.
Lastly, corporations may use the publicity generated by Google Earth about Darfur as an excuse to intervene in Darfur in place of aid-organization. Under the guise of helping Darfur reconstruct, these corporations will have better shots than aid-organizations at lobbying to Congress for funds to aid Darfur (Klein 2005). This is because Congress would favor the corporations because of the jobs they generate and the economic benefits they produce. The corporations may then keep most of the donations and put in only a minimal effort in actually aiding the people of Darfur. Thus, less aid would actually be going to the people who need it.
Although the use of Google Earth to publicize about global disasters seems like a major benefit for the disaster victims, the overall good caused may not be as great as one would expect. This is because of the unlikelihood of Google Earth users to take political action, the old age of some of Google Earth’s satellite images, and the greed of corporations. However, as Google Earth continues to become more and more integrated in our society, such downfalls may one day be corrected.
Graham, M. (2010). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Crisis in Darfur. Retrieved from http://earth.google.com/outreach/cs_darfur.html
Klein, N. (2005, May 2). The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The Nation. Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/doc/20050502/klein
The Economist. (2007, September 6). The world on your desktop. The Economist, 384(8545), 17-21.