How We Use Social Media During Disasters

How We Use Social Media During Disasters


The November 2015 terror attacks in Paris
threw the social media community into a frenzy. A fire hose of information, opinions, and
news streamed through Twitter, Facebook, and other networks. Some of it real, some of it
false, and a lot of miscommunication. In fact, social media has made disaster response more
complicated, yet often times more effective. So, exactly how has social media changed disasters? Well, in any disaster, especially one producing
casualties, there are two things that people want to know: what is going on, and are my
friends and family safe? Before the internet was widespread, those questions were answered
by legacy news sources, like television and radio. The whereabouts of loved ones would
likely be dependent on a series of phone calls. But today, the game has completely changed.
As soon as a major event occurs, a flood of information from hundreds, if not thousands
of sources springs up, readily available to anyone with internet access. It has even transformed
the nature of journalism, with citizen journalists sometimes providing the most up to date and
accurate information, while traditional reporters scramble for sources. But with this overwhelming
amount of information, there is a glaring problem: who can be trusted? In the days following
the Paris attacks, a picture of a Sikh man holding an iPad was photoshopped to look like
a man holding a Qu’ran, and wearing a bomb vest. He was purported to be one of the attackers. This is where another major factor comes in:
crowdsourcing. While people post information, there are dedicated groups fact checking,
referencing, and supporting those ideas. Companies like Grasswire are able to collect huge numbers
of tweets and photos, while following up on stories and checking with experts, all in
real time. The faked photo of the Sikh man was almost immediately flagged as “fake”
by Grasswire, preventing it from gaining as much traction. The internet’s ability to
regulate itself can even lead to even stronger journalistic standards than in staffed legacy
news networks. But at the same time, crowdsourcing information
isn’t always the best idea. During the hunt for the 2013 Boston Bombers, the crowdsourcing
media website, Reddit, attempted to figure out the bombers’ identity. A sort of witch-hunt
based on weak evidence led to multiple innocent people being targeted in the media and online,
despite having nothing to do with the case at all. Clearly, is it important that there
be some editorial standard and organization, or a crowd can run amok with the wrong information. But social media has also made it fast and
easy to reassure everybody that you’re alright during dangerous events. Facebook’s new
“Safety Check” feature lets you, or someone else, mark you “Safe” in a natural or
human disaster. Instead of having to create a phone tree, you’re able to reassure anyone
interested in your well being, and deal with the disaster at hand. Public officials are
also able to reach as many people as possible by providing directions and updates online,
thereby potentially saving lives. Despite some drawbacks to having a barrage
of information, social media has actually made disaster response more effective, and
under the right organization, more accurate. As technology changes the way we interact
with the world, it is important to continue regulating and adapting to new tools. If you want to learn more about the power
of one social media platform — you might have heard of it — check out this video
about Facebook. Thanks for
watching TestTube News! Special thanks to Grasswire for collaborating with us on this
episode. Make sure to check out the links to their social channels in the description
below. And as always, don’t forget to subscribe to TestTube News for new videos every day.

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