The Serious Side of Social Media
By Jeff Howland
Tropical Storm Isaac continues to pound Louisiana, and a 7.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of the Phillipines today. As these natural disasters impact hundreds-of-thousands of people, the affected and those who help them increasingly rely on social media as one of the primary channels of communication and outreach. The widespread use of smartphones enables real-time citizen reporting from ground-zero as disaster strikes. Reports from natural disasters routinely hit Twitter before we hear about them in the major news networks, and as disasters develop, victims looking for help often turn to social media first. While this is a relatively new dynamic, and social media’s role is still emerging, a recent study indicated that using social media during natural disasters is comforting and empowering to victims.
A Resource for First Responders, Victims, and Families
In recent years the emergence of this phenomenon has been seen in the development of software allowing ‘digital volunteers’ to map out disaster zones for first responders, FEMA’s routine use of Twitter hashtags (#Isaac) to collect and distribute pertinent information, and a Joplin, MO newspaper’s Facebook page serving as a victim checkpoint. Most recently, The Red Cross developed an app for Hurricane Isaac, allowing victims to let their families know they are safe and to let them know when it is safe to return home.
Social media regularly serves as an effective method of sharing the good news of our lives, however when disaster strikes, the serious side of social media rises to the occasion and is becoming an ever-important tool in responding to, reporting about, and caring for victims.
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