Over the past 15 years, the growth in technology has enabled us to interact and share information with one another at a rapid speed. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be accessed through computers, tablets, smartphones, and even text messaging 24/7. Social media is a phenomenon that continues to serve a variety of purposes, including a growing role in emergencies and disasters.
In times of emergencies or disasters, we worry for our loved ones who may be involved. There is a period of terrifying uncertainty before we are able to connect with friends and family directly after a major tragedy has occurred. After Hurricane Katrina, multiple websites were created to help find missing people. It took survivors a long time to search through these sites, and it often contained duplicate information. In 2010, Google set out to fix this problem by helping victims from the Haiti earthquake connect with their loved ones through Person Finder, a tool that collects data from various internet sources and consolidates it into one place.
Now Facebook is a huge channel that is being used by many organizations like universities, nonprofits, and both local and state governments. They use it to send out information, to communicate with one another, and to plan emergency services. Facebook launched the Safety Check feature last year which enables users to notify friends and family that they are safe in times of disaster. During the latest attacks in Paris, many civilians within the affected areas received a message to their phone through Facebook asking if they were okay, and if they were, to check that they were safe.This notification of safety was sent to their social media network. The site is also being used as a medium to conduct warnings, to find assistance for victims, and even to assess damage estimates based on uploaded photos.
So why is it that millions of people turn to social media in times of need? There are three main reasons:
- Bandwidth - If we have a limited amount of time, battery or opportunity to get the word out that we are safe, posting on social media reaches the most people in the quickest amount of time.
- Response - Social media is a social sphere that allows us to interact and engage with each other constantly. When we post something, we expect a response from our friends. When posting in times of disaster, we expect the same.
- Power - Our contributions have made an impact. The photos and videos people take on their phone and then upload to the internet are changing conversations. They alert news media on new developments and can change the direction of response.
Social media is quickly becoming the “real-time web,” meaning we don’t just turn to social media for updates, we look to take action. Keeping the world connected in this way alerts everyone when disasters or emergencies strike, so people can lend a helping hand or take proper action if needed. We have always felt compassion and a desire for helping others in times of need and now technology is finally catching up with us.