Social Media in disaster management

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While Kenya grapples with the effects of the 2007 post election violence, and Haiti is rippled by residue waves of the recent 7.0 earthquake, sites like ushahidi, facebook and twitter have taken their place as crucial and powerful disaster management tools of the 21st century.

Such platforms have become the most reliable media networks as anyone in the affected zone is usually able to remit the latest status of events and the information is availed to the rest of the world at the click of a button.

Twitter for example was the prime mode for communication by Iranians during the post election violence. It enabled the world at large keep up with the on goings there from the 140-character microblogs popularly known as status updates. Twitter is also used by trapped survivors in Haiti who use the site to direct rescue efforts using the hashtag #rescuemehaiti; people outside Haiti who are concerned about their relatives use #relativesinhaiti in search efforts.

Facebook and Google are also using their platforms in search of missing persons. There are already several groups on Facebook to raise funds for the earthquake victims. Such include “Earthquake Haiti” that already has over 300,000 members.

Ushahidi is probably the most effective tool for crowd sourcing in disaster management, that’s because it was designed just for that. Ushahidi came up during the Kenyan post election violence to assist aid agencies in finding affected persons.  It’s an “open source project with developers from Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Netherlands and USA that allows information gathering via sms, email or web and visualizes it on a map or timeline for crisis response”. In Haiti for example it informs people on where aid will be delivered and where aftershocks have been reported.

Social media has become the new mode of journalism. It’s raw, unconventional and, save for a few cases, very reliable especially in cases of disasters.  The degree of its efficiency is still debatable though. RFP French language public broadcasters association that includes Canada, French, Belgian and Swiss radio stations is set to carry out an experiment on the reliability of crowd sourcing journalism. On Feb 1st to 6th, five journalists will be hole up in a French farmhouse with their only access to the outside world being social media sites. The goal is to see whether news that spreads across the sites is of any good.

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