By Nic G
One of the greatest outcomes of virtual globes, specifically Google Earth, is the awareness raised about global crises. Google Earth is a virtual, online 3D globe composed of satellite and aerial imagery, layered with geographic information. The virtual globe has been able to assist in promoting awareness of global problems such as Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, and the genocide in Darfur. However, Google Earth has been accused of being part of conflict branding and “disaster capitalism” (Parks, 2009, 542). Conflict branding is Google’s use of world crises as a way to promote their label. It is a part of disaster capitalism, which, in addition to marketing, includes “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events” (Parks, 2009, 542). Although Google may be using disasters as marketing opportunities, this is not where the focus needs to be. Google Earth is undoubtedly magnifying its name, but the amount of awareness generated outweighs the marketing involved.
Google Earth has developed in depth layers that allow users to view pictures, geographic information, and read stories. There is a layer Crisis in Darfur, which allows users to see updates of the situation. See this YouTube clip for a detailed tour of the Crisis in Darfur layer. Included in the layer is a “what can I do?” option that links users to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) website. According to Michael Graham, coordinator of the Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative for the USHMM, “more than a million people have downloaded layers and more than 100,000 have at least visited the “what can I do?” page” (Graham, 2007, Impact of Crisis in Darfur). Publicity about the layer has brought people to use the USHMM’s website. Clearly, Google Earth is succeeding in developing awareness of the events in Darfur. Despite the publicity Google is gaining from putting its name on layers, is it still successfully sharing information about global disasters.
Moreover, Google Earth is not only assisting in the promotion and encouragement of assistance in world crisis, but it has also designed a more organized system in order to help non-profits and government agencies to help in more productive ways. Specifically, Google Earth has helped the USHMM to “organize and present information in a compelling and timely way” (Graham, 2007, Para. 5). It has proved to be more effective in that it quickly reaches the public and informs them about the situation in Darfur. In 2007, according the Michael Graham, the amount of visitors to the USHMM layer on Darfur from outside the United States went from 25% to 46% two months after the release of the USHMM website in 2007, which is linked to Google Earth. In the layer, it is possible to view the latest photos, along with finding links to articles, videos, and even directions of how to help. Again, regardless of how much Google markets itself, the genocide in Darfur is being exposed and is encouraging people to go to Darfur themselves to help.
In conclusion, Google Earth has been a key helper in humanitarian efforts in Darfur by providing organized, updated information. The use of layers by Google Earth is not only notifying internet users, but it is also offering more organized systems so that the government and non-government organizations can organize their information. Perhaps Google’s name is being promoted, but more importantly, the company is effectively getting the word out in hope to help the victims of genocide.
Crisis in Darfur layer in Google Earth (Layers/Global Awareness)
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
Parks, L. (2009). Digging into Google Earth: An analysis of Crisis in Darfur. Geoforum 40, 535-545.