Can Twitter Save Lives?

By Garrett Stanczak

japan-considers-using-social-networks-in-disaster-situations

In today’s day and age, it can be very easy to be cynical about social media such as Twitter and Facebook. However, it is equally easy to overlook the fact that social media like this can play an important part in saving lives. With social media permeating nearly every facet of our lives, it should be of little surprise that disaster relief is one of those facets.

In a 2015 article posted on Emergency Management, Angela Gosnell talks about a Facebook feature called Safety Check which locates users in a disaster area who then “receive a notification asking if they are safe”. Replying yes sends a notification to the friends and followers of that person.

facebook-security-check

In addition to special features, social media in its most basic form can still help with disaster relief. Scientific American’s Dina Fine writes about how Twitter can be used to help with relief. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy “New Jersey’s largest utility company, PSE&G… staffed up their Twitter feeds and used them to send word about the daily locations of their giant tents and generators” (2013). Regular users can also provide first-hand information of disasters to the entire world within seconds, long before any national media can.

Like all systems however, this method is not perfect. Gosnell mentions that “the point is lost if majority of those in need of the service have no way of accessing it” (2015). The worst case scenario of this being that many phone companies may start advertising their products as wireless ways of accessing social media and fast disaster relief, thus commercializing disaster relief itself.

Another concern is that, with social media being as large as it is, there may be no consistent hashtag or other item for people to track to ensure they get all necessary information (Fine, 2013). In a far darker turn of events, some people could use social media to take advantage of an emergency to make a quick buck. Fine reports that a woman was arrested for claiming “to be the relative of a dead victim and solicited money via Facebook and other sources” (2013).

So while social media can be a very beneficial tool for disaster response and relief, it is important that this technology is closely guarded so that it is not used for ill.

References:

Social Media’s Role in Disaster Response Expands By Angela Gosnell, 2015

How Social Media is Changing Disaster Response By Dina Fine, 2013

First image taken from here.

Second image taken from here.

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