Dronestagram: Using Social Media to Put Drone Strike Sites on the Map — Literally

A new project is using the popular photo-sharing app Instagram to shed light on one of the more shadowy aspects of modern warfare.

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A new project is using the popular photo-sharing app Instagram to shed light on one of the more shadowy aspects of modern warfare. The images that come through the Dronestagram feed aren’t pretty — or even the sort of thing you’d want to share with your friends — but according to founder James Bridle, that’s not the point.

“It’s a way of visualizing what some people want to hide, but by changing the medium, I’m putting it where people are already spending time,” he tells TIME. “It radically increases access and visibility.”

Bridle uses research from local news reports, government websites and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to pinpoint the locations of recent drone strike sites on Google satellite maps. He crops an image of the site, which is then uploaded to the Dronestagram Instagram account, along with data about the attack — often including the names and ages of those who died or were injured in the attack. The image is then pushed out to the project’s Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr account, reaching a combined audience of several thousand followers — and counting.

Bridle, an author and digital strategist, says he started the site after realizing he could leverage the availability of digital networks to connect people with information that is already out there, just waiting to be used. On his site, Bridle lists many of the unseen towns and cities where drones have changed people’s lives forever. “I see drones as being emblematic uses of technology where people want to hide things and actually increase the distance between different parts of the world.”

His timing is excellent. Social media is fast becoming an integral part of how we wage war, with Israel and Hamas turning their recent fight over Gaza into a massive battle for public opinion through social networking sites. The Israel Defense Force employed a Twitter account, @IDFspokesperson, to liveblog military operations in real time, countered by an account for Hamas’ Al Qassam brigade that did the same thing.

(READThe War Will Be Gamified: Israel, Hamas in Social Media Struggle)

Since launching a month ago, Bridle’s site has received a number of mentions in the mainstream press, including The AtlanticThe Guardian and BuzzFeed. Bridle explains the popularity of the project as a simple function of how we use social media to get more information.

“Photo sharing is another extraordinary technology we’ve been subliminally used to,” he says. “It’s usually narrow and limited to certain interests, but reality is a lot more complicated than that.”

But isn’t it jarring to see a satellite image of a drone strike site sandwiched between a picture of a cute puppy and what someone ate for breakfast? For Bridle, it’s a necessary juxtaposition that proves especially poignant in modern life: “We tend to use these networks for banal things, but reality is more complex than that.”