The Use of Social Media During A Disaster

Early last week students of MacEwan University should have received both an email and a text message alerting them of a test of the alert system. In the moment many probably disregarded the messages, but if it has actually been an alert of an emergency, students would have immediately been able to take instructed action. Social media plays an increasingly large role in our daily lives. Many would be completely lost without their cell phones and the immediate relief it provides on a daily basis.

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I personally have never been apart of a disaster but I can imagine in the moment I wouldn’t have time to start making phone calls to my family and friends. News spreads quickly around the world of these disasters and it be received by others faster then those involved can tell them. Laird Harrison acknowledges how “[i]ncreasingly, people who respond to disasters are finding social media indispensable.” The chart below illustrates how Americans use social media during these times.

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Social media has numerous advantages in aiding as a tool when dealing with a disaster. Harrison explains how “[e]mergency workers and volunteers are using social media to find people in need, map damaged areas, organize relief efforts, disseminate news and guidance, attract donations, and help prepare for future disasters.” Organizations and major companies are able to share on their social media accounts how people can help, who they can call and how they can locate loved ones in a controlled and safe manor. Bruce Lindsay explains how there are two broad categories when it comes to using social media during an emergency or disaster. First, it can be utilized as an output to spread information, instructions and warnings. Second it is a vital emergency tool when it comes to managing the inputs.

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Kevin Sur, an instructor at the National Disaster Preparedness Training Centre, stated how “…mobile communications — including social media — remain viable platforms because of the small amount of data needed to communicate.” However I think the main disadvantage of this method is that news spread on social media is not always reliable. Anyone can post anything, at any time and it isn’t always verified. Unverified conclusions can be detrimental in the case of a real time disaster. Another disadvantage is if someone doesn’t have access to social media. I think people sometimes rely too much on their technology. Social media refers to the the use of the internet in communication and sharing in information. It is the ideal platform when it comes to spreading news and information during times of need.

Samantha Watson Penner

Sources

Harrison, L. (July 2, 2015). Social media: indispensable during disasters. Retrieved from: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/847183

Lindsay, B.R (June 15, 2016). Social media for emergencies and disasters: overview and policy considerations. Retrieved from: https://www.acuta.org/acuta/legreg/062216b.pdf

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2 thoughts on “The Use of Social Media During A Disaster

  1. You mentioned the disadvantage being that not everyone has access to social media all the time. Do you think we’ll get to the point that it will be expected that everyone has a smartphone? Or will we continue to have alternative methods of communications for those, like me, still living in the stone age of dumb phones? TV and Radio are still the most popular sources for emergency information. Do you think mobile apps and social media with surpass them soon?

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    1. I think eventually yes, everyone will have access to social media. But I think in a lot of developing countries, where we often see these disasters occurring won’t have the same access to social media like we do. I think it will still be a long long time until absolutely everyone has a smartphone. I think its important that people don’t solely rely on their smart phones and they understand other ways of obtaining information during these times. What do you think?

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