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Responding to Liability: Evaluating and Reducing Tort Liability for Digital Volunteers

Author: Edward Robson, Esq.

Study Director: Lea Shanley Editors: Lea Shanley and Aaron Lovell. Written on behalf of the Commons Lab, Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP), Woodrow Wilson Center, with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and CrisisCommons.

Major emergencies and crises can overwhelm local resources. In the last several years, self-organized digital volunteers have begun leveraging the power of social media and “crowd-mapping” for collaborative crisis response.  Rather than mobilizing a physical response, these digital volunteer groups have responded virtually by creating software applications, monitoring social networks, aggregating data, and creating “crowdsourced” maps to assist both survivors and the formal response community.  These virtual responses can subject digital volunteers to tort liability. This report evaluates the precise contours of potential liability for digital volunteers.