Social Media as well as traditional Mass Media (news on TV) dedicate at least 20 per cent of their time to broadcast information concerning catastrophes. Why are they so interested? Is there a way to convert social media in Civil Protection Agents? How can they improve crisis communications to foster recovery when a disaster strikes? A blog on crisis communications best practices, emergency information and social media in emergency management. Opinions are my own.
Do social networks make citizens equal when a disaster strikes? What do you think?
It is a fact that nowadays, trough social media, we can have last minute information of almost any natural or man-made disaster, providing there is someone broadcasting and also taking into consideration whether the disaster has been predicted and announced (Hurricanes normally are) or not (terrorist attack). Even in the second case, we would always count on some bystanders eager to share the explosion. It is also a fact that the use of social media in disasters is increasing, as we have recently seen in the Turkey earthquake, and that lives are being saved thanks to the geolocated gadgets included insmartphones.
If we think about where information comes form, we find that in countries technologically developed, where most of the population owns a cell phone, we will probably be informed at once of whatever happens. On the other side, in countries without these facilities citizens will have more difficulties in accessing the Internet and, therefore, we could say that we will see less information trough the new media.
This seems obvious, but it is not that simple.
From the old media to social media
Social media are one more tool to get information, but not the only one. It is true that they have completely changed not only the way information is delivered but also they have given everyone with a cell phone the possibility to broadcast information, as @gbaron explains so well in this video about crisis communication. The point is, have they really changed completely the scenario, as gbaron says?
I could agree a hundred per cent with him, but I still think there are some other aspects we should consider in crisis communications.
I’m talking here of the old media agenda-setting, which is the criteria used by mass media to decide what news will be broadcast, based on parameters such as human interests, proximity, number of casualties, how outrageous the crisis is, whether the person involved in a crisis is a celebrity and so on.
The Turkey's earthquake
The question is, is it true that any explosion will be immediately broadcast anywhere in the world regardless of where the place it occurs and its consequences? I might say the answers is no. Why? First of all, because, as I say at the beginning of this post, technological development is a must.If a thousand people die from an explosion in a place where no one has a cell phone, no one would be able to use Twitter to let us know. We would get that information delivered trough traditional mass media, providing they were on site.
Traditional media versus new media
If we agree to this point, I’ll pose a new question. Is there a TV, radio station or newspaper office in that place? If the answer is yes, it is surely because the place is important enough to be in our prayers. What I mean is that we probably have some kind of interest there, either technological, economic ( petrol, gas), political, humanitarian or of any other kind. If that is the case, there will probably be a technological development strong enough to access the internet, if not by everyone at least for the media, non-governmental organizations and many citizens.
Therefore, if the media are there, we could get information delivered in the old way: an event occurs, there is a response and information is delivered through the media to the crowd. The most outstanding difference is the number of channels. We would have some more with social media so, if we have a snake eating its tail, why I am writing this post?
Flooding in India
For one reason. If we admit that there is not a TV or Radio station everywhere, then we would not be able to get the information, and this means that, though it may sound unbelievable, there are still some places in the world which do not exists, form an agenda-setting point of view, since we have no news from them at all. Proof is that there are no examples at all of information related to those places being delivered.
If we think of some Third World countries, we might reach the conclusion that we have never ever heard news from them. To make it more obvious, how many countries are in the world whose names- not to mention where they are- we don’t even know? Is it possible that nothing ever happens in those places?
To sum up, we could say equality is a problem of technological development. If the country has been able to develop resilience channels and their citizens are wealthy enough to own a cell phone they will have the same chances as everyone else to share information using multiple channels, and, by sharing, they would be able to obtain some help, if needed. If it is not the case, citizens could only count on traditional media, if there is any, to let the world know what’s going on there.