With the recent events here in New Zealand and the terrific role social media played during these, I looked a bit deeper into the relationship between social media and disaster response and the tools that have been developed to assist in these times of need.
Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have taken the initiative so that they are no longer just a communication channel during these disasters, and have developed different tools that work in conjunction with their existing platform – for situations like the Earthquake that just rocked Kaikoura, New Zealand.
In 2014, Mark Zuckerburg announced the launch of “Safety Check” on Facebook. The tool determines your location by looking at; the city listed in your profile, the city where you are using the Internet, and your last location (if opted into the Nearby Friends product). It then assesses if you’re in the affected area following a natural disaster and delivers a notification asking if you’re safe. If for some reason Facebook gets your location wrong, you can mark that you’re outside the affected area, or if you’re safe, then you can simply click “I’m Safe” which generates a notification and a News Feed story.
Twitter’s emergency feature: “Twitter Alerts”, allows users to sign up and receive an account’s Twitter Alerts so when that account marks their tweet as an alert, the user will receive a notification via SMS, and/or a push notification if you’re using Twitter for iPhone or Android. These alerts are also indicated with an orange bell to stand out on your home timeline.
Google’s offering focuses on helping people reconnect with loved ones in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Person Finder helps worried friends/family to search for the status of a missing person with the help of those involved. The four steps are:
- Crisis strikes and people are separated.
- Users let the world know they are looking for someone.
- Individuals and organisations provide information.
- People find information about their friends and family.
As well as being a fantastic tool during times of need, it is also realised that social media can cause new problems during emergencies too. Rumours and misinformation can spread like wildfire across these channels causing more panic, confusion and stress.
All in all, social media has made great leaps and bounds when it comes to disaster relief action and will only continue to improve. I think it’s fair to say that we are all thankful for the way it keeps us connected with our loved ones, and updated on the situation.