Social Media and Disaster Response


Social media plays a large role in day-to-day life. Many people turn to social media because it provides easy access to real time communication or because its universally accessible. These motivations among others are key factors that have contributed to social media’s success in dealing with disaster response.

A Red Cross survey asked 1,058 adults about their use of social media sites in emergency situations. It found that if they needed help and couldn’t reach 9-1-1, one in five would try to contact responders through a digital means such as social media.

Two key reasons people use social media in disaster response are because of its range and power.

Range: When you post online you can communicate to infinite numbers of people in just seconds.

Power: Posts about significant events create an impact, which will in turn create conversation and alert people about the disaster and its developments.

Considering social media’s power in disaster response, Facebook has implemented the feature Safety Check on their platform. This feature sends users in the vicinity of a disaster notifications asking if they are safe, and then updates their response to their Facebook page. It also allows users to check on people in the affected area and mark friends as safe.

Like Facebook, other social media platforms have implemented disaster-specific tools as well. Twitter has a feature called Twitter Alerts, which delivers tweets marked as an alert by approved organizations via the newsfeed or SMS, along with an additional push notification with alert information to people’s smart phones.

Through the years, social media has proven to be extremely helpful in disaster management. One because it elicits quick responses and second because it helps aide recovery by enhancing communication between different parties. A good example of social media being effectivity used for disaster response is during the Haiti Earthquake. In this disaster social media helped leverage crowdsourcing, which helped Ushahidi (a crisis mapping software) set up a short code phone number for organizations to borrow in order to send free SMS texts.  News of this free emergency number was then spread through local and national radio stations, which helped relief organizations identify and respond to urgent cases in time.

Overall, using social media for the purpose of disaster response has many advantages and this is why I believe more and more platforms will implement similar features in the near future.

Image Source


Amrit Kang.


Fox, Z. (2013). Why Social Media Is the Front Line of Disaster Response. Retrieved from

Gao, H., Barbier., Goolsby, R. (2011). Harnessing the Crowdsourcing Power of Social Media for Disaster Relief. University of Arizona.

Gosnell, A. (2015, May 5). Social Media’s Role in Disaster Response Expands. Retrieved       from

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2 thoughts on “Social Media and Disaster Response

  1. Do you think that social media alerts will come to replace the old-fashioned television and radio broadcast interruptions? I’ve never really thought about it before, but don’t those emergency reports typically come from government organizations? I wonder if Social Media platforms like Facebook will ever be able to act as a functional warning system. Right now it seems more like a method of organizing response efforts, which is important, but doesn’t necessarily mitigate damage.


    1. I do think with improvements social media platforms can become functional warning systems. However, I don’t think television and radio alerts will ever get replaced. Just think about how many people live in rural communities in second and third world countries, and how many of them actually have access to social media. The last statistic I saw said 31% of the worlds population uses social media.

      Liked by 1 person

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