Can Social Media Become a Life-Saving Tool During Natural Disasters?

Social media can be a great deal of incredible things: a platform for communication, an outlet for news, a keeper of memories, and an online album of cat pictures (thank you, Instagram). While these are useful tools, some studies have explored an even higher value of social media as technological advancements are made. According to a recent study conducted by researchers for Science Advances, social media has become an unprecedented tool for saving lives during natural disasters and emergencies. 

Social media saves lives? Yes, it does – even more than you’d think. The Science Advances study specifically researched the uses of Twitter and how the platform can be utilized by both members of society and emergency workers to ensure that people stay safe.

Twitter can tell emergency workers where the most help is needed. The Science Advances study explored the use of Twitter during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The researched recorded the use of keywords such as “hurricane,” “blackout,” “no power,” and “stay safe.” Then, these keywords were tracked to locations to see which areas had suffered the most, finding that areas near New York and throughout the northeastern U.S. (naturally) had the most activity when compared to other areas. Additionally, researchers discovered that areas affected by the hurricane saw high levels of original Twitter activity and lower levels of retweeting as the storm approached. Theoretically, emergency workers could utilize Twitter to see which areas are suffering from a natural disaster the most and could aid more people by knowing what was going on – such as a blackout or home damage.

Facebook offers a service to allow users to mark themselves “safe” during disasters. Although the Science Advances study only explored Twitter during emergency situations, it’s important to note that Facebook offers a great way to quickly let friends and family know you’re safe. If Facebook detects that you are near an area suffering from a natural disaster, you can mark yourself as “safe” so people don’t worry. The only difference between Twitter and Facebook in disaster situations is simply that Twitter can be more of a global broadcast, whereas Facebook is typically used as a personal platform between friends and family.

Social media provides access to information via news station pages. Back before the Internet, people had to discover what was happening by flipping on the television. If a tornado was suddenly forming in your town, you wouldn’t know until you decided to watch the news or heard the alarms. If you weren’t paying attention, it may have been too late to find safety or shelter. Thankfully, in modern times, we can simply follow a news station on Twitter or Facebook and receive updates as storms and disasters are forming.

Whether you agree or disagree with the frequent use of social media, the truth stands that it is a useful tool for a variety of important factors. By having quick and easy access to information via social media, people can appropriately find safety in times when having quick easy access to information matters the most. To read the full study published in Science Advances, follow this link.