Help is just a “tweet” away



How social media can help people in times of need

Social media is often accused of bad things. It was recently blamed for the riots that happened all over the UK because rioters used their smart phones to inform people where the riots were taking place and inciting them to join in. But social media can be used to save people in times of need, and here are the reasons why.

Social media to the rescue:
After the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that recently devastated areas of eastern Turkey, two teenagers who were trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building called for help in the most trendy way imaginable, they tweeted. A local reporter saw their “tweets for help” and immediately gave search and rescue teams the teen’s exact coordinates thanks to Twitter’s location feature. Two hours later, the teenagers were freed. Following their rescue, at least 67 other people were saved, many of which used social media to seek assistance after being trapped or injured by the quake.

People using social media to help them out of a tricky situation isn’t as unprecedented as we might think. In 2008, Egyptian police officers arrested a UC Berkeley student by the name of James Buck for photographing a protest near Cairo. Buck simply tweeted the word “Arrested” on his account and his followers notified Berkeley and he was released shortly after with the help of the US State Department and local attorneys. In 2009, two young Australians girls were trapped in a storm sewer. They used their smart phones to update their Facebook status and thanks to some help from their friends who notified the policed, they were rescued from their predicament.

Crisis responders want to use social media to their advantage:
The America Red Cross hosted the Emergency Social Data Summit about a year ago. In their words, they created the summit to “...examine how we might use social and mobile tools to increase disaster response collaboration amongst aid agencies, government agencies, corporations, technologists and citizen groups”. The reasons why social media is so appealing to organizations like the Red Cross are easy to understand:

Large number of users:
Facebook alone has over 500 million users across the world, so it’s easy to quickly reach a vast number of people in case of a crisis.

It’s cheap:
Organizations usually don’t have a lot of funds, so it’s easier to build social media apps because most of them are build on platforms that already exist. That way, they can spend their time on what is important, saving people rather than building complex IT infrastructures.

It’s multipurpose:
Social media platforms are easy to customize and many intertwine with one another. The Red Cross Safe and Well Survivor program which was designed to help reconnect families after hurricane Katrina was recently update to include direct feeds to Facebook and Twitter. The Red Cross even has a Flickr account so people that are away from their homes can see if their neighbourhoods were damaged after a natural disaster.

Of course, not everyone is on board with the idea that emergency responders should have a wider access to social media sites. Some people are afraid that, since private information is often given in emergency situations, that information could be used by emergency workers to commit fraud or identity theft. Social media would once again be criticized for its lack of respect towards the user’s private info, even if that info could safe their life.

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