HELP!! Social media and it’s role in disaster response

When I saw that one of the topics to write about was social media’s role in disaster response, I knew that it was one I had a few opinions about. The first disaster that immediately came to mind, was the Syrian refugee crisis and Aleppo. This is a disaster that has dominated the news for over a year, but more than the news, has dominated social media. In regards to this disaster, social media played a huge part in disaster response in ways such as: a Twitter post of a refugee man selling pens while holding his child. This resulted in a fundraising campaign for the man and his family which amassed over $200,000, and allowed him to open a few businesses in Lebanon, and employ other displaced refugees.

Going back to the initial question, social media is used in several different ways in regards to disaster response. First, it provides a channel for people affected by the tragedy to reach out to loved ones and let them know that they are okay. Secondly, it brings awareness to the rest of the world about what is going on, which can also bring support and relief to the area. The advantages to this are always being up to date with what is going on, being able to be informed and show support, and those affected being able to still communicate with the rest of the world. Disadvantages can be that it relies on internet connection, so if you are located in the affected area with no internet, that you may not be able to get your messages out. Another disadvantage, is that we as the public choose to connect with things that give us an emotional connection, so if there is a disaster that we don’t necessarily empathize with, then we may not feel as connected and want to provide any support. For example, people felt compelled to help the Syrian refugees once they saw the photo of the dead child that was trying to flee with his family. However, this past fall Hurricane Matthew reeked havoc around the Caribbean, and very little support was shown for those affected.

There are a few ways using social media for disaster response can go wrong. First and probably the most important, is the spread of misinformation. One example of this, was after the Dallas police shootings last summer. The Dallas police wrongly identified the wrong suspect and posted his photo to their social media account on Twitter which was then retweeted for hours until they realized that they had the wrong person, and had quite a bit of back tracking to do with the public. A second thing that can go wrong, is that scammers can use disasters to their benefit. An example of this was a woman who was arrested by the FBI after scamming many people out of their money by pretending to be a relative of a dead victim in the Newton, Connecticut school shooting. When it comes to the future, I can see social media within disaster response evolving, but I’m not sure what may potentially be added. I do know that the current methods that we are using will continue. Overall, social media is continuing to make us more connected about what is going on around us, and that is a great thing.

-Riona Harriott




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