Disasters & Social Media

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When disaster strikes it is crucial that citizens are well-informed of the situation, and that they know how to respond. Thanks to social media, citizens can be continuously informed of ongoing updates rather than waiting for the six o’clock news to learn what is happening.

Houston et al. (2015) says, “compared to traditional media, web- based social media technologies are characterised by greater capacity, dependability, and interactivity, each of which may be advantageous for disaster communication.” (p. 4). Social media’s ability to assuage citizen fears by being able to directly communicate with them is a great advantage that traditional media lacks.

Students of Macewan University saw an example of this on October 25, 2016 when Macewan was threatened with an act of terror. Macewan posted information about the threat via social media, and included a link to their website for more information. Unfortunately, for social media platforms like Twitter, there aren’t enough characters to provide detailed information, which is why they linked to their website.

Though short of substance, the tweet spread quickly amongst the students. It’s actually how I learned about the threat, one of my friends retweeted that post which in turn showed up on my feed when I checked Twitter that morning. Unfortunately, there was a lack of information that resulted in rumors about the act of terror. Due to the strong police presence at Macewan, this act of terror had to be something serious. Was it a bomb? A shooting? Why was the school still open? Many people tweeted Macewan asking many questions, but most were directed to their website.

When social media spreads disaster response information, it is typically before the situation has completely unfolded. They still don’t have the full story, and can’t answer all of the populace’s questions. Social media is a great tool for spreading disaster responses, but a lack of information can cause rumors and fear among citizens. There is certainly room for improvement, and as Houston et al. says, “Effective disaster communication may prevent a disaster or lessen its impact, whereas ineffective disaster communication may cause a disaster or make its effects worse.” (p. 1).


Houston, J., Hawthorne, J., Park, E., Hode, M., Halliwell, M., David, R., . . . Griffith, S. (2015). Social media and disasters: a functional framework for social media use in disaster planning, response, and research. Disasters, 39(1), 1-22. Retrieved from: http://content.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.macewan.ca/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMNXb4kSeqLQ4zdnyOLCmr06eqK9Sr6i4SLWWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGqt0uyrLVRuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=R&D=a9h&K=99906422

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