Exodus 2.0: crowdsourcing geographical and social trails of mass migration

  • Troy Curry
  • Arie Croitoru
  • Andrew Crooks
  • Anthony Stefanidis
Original Article


The exodus of displaced populations is a recurring historical phenomenon, and the ongoing Syrian humanitarian crisis is its latest incarnation. During such mass migration events, information is an essential commodity. Of particular importance is geographical (e.g., pathways and refugee camps) and social (e.g., refugee activities and networking) information. Traditionally, such information had been produced and disseminated by authorities, but a new paradigm is emerging: Web 2.0 and mobile computing technologies enable the involved stakeholder communities to produce, access, and consume migration-related information. The purpose of this article is to put forward a new typology for understanding the factors around migration and to examine the potential of crowd-generated data—especially open data and volunteered geographic information—to study such events. Using the recent wave of migration to Europe from the Middle East and northern Africa as a case study, we examine how migration-related information can be dynamically mined and analyzed to study the migrants’ pathways from their home countries to their destination sites, as well as the conditions and activities that evolve during the migration process. These new data sources can provide a deeper and more fine-grained understanding of the migration process, often in real-time, and often through the eyes of the communities affected by it. Nevertheless, this also raises significant methodological and technical challenges for their future use associated with potential biases, data quality issues, and data processing.


Refugees Forced migration Humanitarian crisis Volunteered geographic information Crowdsourcing Social media GIS Web 2.0 

JEL Classification

C800 (Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs: General) 



We would like to thank the four anonymous reviewers for providing invaluable comments and suggestions.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10109_2018_278_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.5 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3609 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and GeoInformation ScienceGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  2. 2.Center for Geospatial IntelligenceGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  3. 3.Department of Computational and Data SciencesGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  4. 4.Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis (CINA) CenterGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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