The Use of Social Media in Disaster Response

By: Kayleigh MacKay

Social media can often be seen as frivolous technologies, horrible time-wasters, and/or privacy-invasion nightmares, but apart from obvious downsides, some good can come from them: Social media have shown to be very helpful when used in disaster or public crisis situations. Various social networking sites have been used “by individuals and communities to warn others of unsafe areas or situations, inform friends and family that someone is safe, and raise funds for disaster relief” (Lindsay, 2011, p. 1).

We can look at a couple examples to see how social media have helped in different crisis situations. During the 2007 Southern California wildfires, those in “the affected region used social media to learn critical information about the fires (Palen, 2008, p. 77). During the crisis, people found that “much of the news media broadcasts were far too general and often incorrect” and social media gave them local, up-to-date information (Palen, 2008, p.77). A second example is during the April 2007 shooting at the Virginia Tech campus, when “students turned to text messaging and instant messaging to check on the safety of friends located elsewhere” after they were warned to stay inside (Palen, 2008, p. 77).

Now, I am not saying this is a perfect tool to use; there are some problems. “Inaccurate and false information” may be spread since posts cannot be verified, “malicious use of social media during an incident” could take place, it could be “problematic under prolonged power outages,” and “privacy concerns exist” with gathering information following the incident. Clearly, social media should not be the only tool we turn to in the event of a disaster, but it has proven to be helpful at a time when people need as many options as they can get.


Image Credit


Palen, L. (2008). Online social media in crisis events. Educause Quarterly, 31(3), 76-78.

Lindsay, B. R. (2011). Social media and disasters: Current uses, future options, and policy considerations.


One thought on “The Use of Social Media in Disaster Response

  1. I can’t even count the amount of times I have seen news about disasters or safety notifications via my social media. I can’t always get to a television immediately and instead of having to wait for the 6 o’clock news, I know I can read articles immediately on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. One of my favourite features of Facebook is how they have notification that people can click to say they are safe if they are near the area of disaster.

    You make a really valid point that it is important to not always assume and believe everything that is posted via social media. It is important to always check those funny websites that Facebook posts. Social media is always a good starting point to turn to figure out what to do or expect during times of disasters and crises.


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