The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Steve Stottlemyre, Sonia Stottlemyre: Crisis Mapping Intelligence Information During the Libyan Civil War: An Exploratory Case Study

This paper has been published as: Steve Stottlemyre and Sonia Stottlemyre (2012) Crisis Mapping Intelligence Information During the Libyan Civil War: An Exploratory Case Study. Policy and Internet 4 (3-4) 24-39.

Steve Stottlemyre, U.S. Department of State
Sonia Stottlemyre, Georgetown Public Policy Institute


In late April 2011, the operators of The Voices Feeds website called a source in Tripoli to collect data about the ground situation in the midst of an Internet blackout. The data they collected was then translated into English, and posted as information to the @feb17voices Twitter feed, reading, “LPC #Tripoli: Eyewitness says there are 200-250 cars with mounted guns on standby at tobacco factory. #Libya.” Found by @k_thor, a Twitter user making map overlays depicting the crisis in Libya, this information was then added to a situation map of Tripoli. The map, which was an amalgamation of information collected from multiple sources, was disseminated on May 14, 2011 through the @LibyaMap Twitter feed, and hashtagged #Tripoli to make it easy for interested parties, from the news media to NATO, to find with a simple Twitter search.

The situation described above was not an isolated incident. Similar events were common throughout the Libyan Civil War. On many occasions, social network users took the initiative to collect and process data for use in the rebellion against the Qadhafi regime. Indeed, this data, in some cases, was processed in a way to make it easily consumable by NATO and coalition forces in their eventual enforcement of a No Fly Zone over Libya in mid-2011. Did social network users and crisis mappers spontaneously create tactical intelligence?

Some argue that to take advantage of open source information available through the Internet, organizations like NATO must first tackle the challenge of “determining how to deal with the huge amount of unstructured data in a useful and/or meaningful way.” On the contrary, this article argues a large amount of relevant data was processed into a usable form by crisis mappers in 2011, and demonstrates how Twitter users fused crowd sourced data to create tactical intelligence in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Libyan Civil War. By observing data from users who frequently used the #NATO and #Libya hashtags during the Libya crisis, and matching emergent patterns to the Joint Intelligence Process (NATO’s theoretical basis for the creation of intelligence), we show that some Libya crisis mappers disseminated their maps, whether they knew it or not, as part of a process that ensured intelligence was produced as part of the war effort.

Steve Stottlemyre, Sonia Stottlemyre