Social Media – A Relief Vehicle?

Social media has integrated itself into all aspects of our lives. This week, we look at how social media use in disaster response, and the risks of depending on it for such events.

Benefits of SM

Social media allows contributions of knowledge chunks in formats that are easy to acquire, share and use. Text messages, images, videos, blog-posts and web-links act as information currency, providing updates during crises.

Visual information can be spread easily on social media, aiding distribution of important information to users succinctly, increasing the efficiency of relief action.

Twitter India News head Raheel Khursheed sharing slides on Facebook, highlighting the urgent requirements for relief after the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

Social media also supports ad-hoc network formation via informal networks, bringing together players with different expertise to a common ground. Ideas are pooled, creating solutions for relief that would have not been otherwise.

Saroj Karki, founder of a blood donation group in 2011, transformed his team in 2015 into the Rapid Response Team. They then created a texting application for receiving earthquake updates and shared it on Facebook.

Risks of SM

However, the use of social media in disaster response is not without its risks. Misinformation can spread rapidly, such as the case of the Boston bombings. Sunil Tripathi was mistakenly identified as one of the bombers, leading his family to receive accusations of covering up for his months-long disappearance.

Anyone can post information relating to the disaster, and in some cases take advantage of it. One example is Nouel Alba, who following a shooting at a school in Newtown, claimed to be a relative of a victim and solicited donations on various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Social media use can assist in knowledge management, but only if there are established norms such as a consistent hashtag. Otherwise, it is impossible to keep track of such large streams of data.


Social media is a powerful tool in increasing the effectiveness of crisis responses. However, as with all uses of social media, caution must be exercised to ensure the downsides do not outweigh the benefits.



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