Social Media in Times of Crisis

From revolutions to natural disasters, social media is playing a massive role. From initial awareness of such events, to raising awareness and funds, as well as reconnecting loved ones together, there is no doubt Twitter and Facebook are a life line to many around the world.

Going into details about the ‘revolutionary’ role of Social Media in the MENA region recently is not necessary. One only had to have a Twitter and Facebook account to get bombarded with updates on a minute by minute basis. From Iran to Tunisia To Egypt To Libya To Bahrain, it’s been none stop information overload regarding protests, bombardments, arrests, kinds of weapons used, what cities are taken over by who, etc… Seeing someone in a conflict zone active on either social networks came with a sigh of relief for many: Said person was still alive and tweeting! That same thing can be said for the people in Japan right now as well.

Two weeks ago, an 8.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, triggering a Tsunami that tore through the country and ravaged it. Social networks have allowed people to make sure their friends and family in Japan are ok, as well as mobilizing rescue efforts through Twitter and Facebook. Charities have also been solicited using social networks to help reach aid to the affected people and areas. The earthquake in Haiti last year helped highlight the important of Social Media in times of crisis.

Social Media rushed to the rescue again, previously with Speak2Tweet during the Egyptian revolution, and now with Google Person Finder; Google often creates Person Finder sites during emergencies that allow people to leave information about their whereabouts or information about a missing person. The records of people missing are currently running into the hundreds of thousands. The Red Cross also operates similar sites that post the information of people who want to make it known that they are fine and alive, as well as allowing relatives to post information about their missing loved ones.

With all the ‘good’ that Social Media Networks can do, it leaves one to wonder:

How will countries like China, Pakistan and Bangladesh cope in times of crisis with Twitter and Facebook banned? How important do you think Twitter and Facebook are to us in this day and age of unexpected disasters?

Social Media to the Rescue: Speak2Tweet

In last week’s blog post ‘Online Activism: Social Media & Politics’, we took a bird’s eye view of the situation in the region as a whole, and how Social Media tools were assisting in organizing protests and demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and other parts of the middle east. In the past week, shortly after completing the blog post, Egypt erupted into what became a revolutionary uprising that is still ongoing as this new post is being written.

The role of Social Media, despite the government shut down of the internet in Egypt for days, has shown how important it truly is in our modern lives, and how much we rely on the internet for information, assistance and ‘spreading the word’. Which leads me to wonder how on earth did our parents survive without the internet?! Especially for those of us in this turbulent part of the world…A blog post for another day.

When the Egyptian government cut off the internet and started to crack down on Media censorship, Twitter came to the rescue with the help of Google and a company called SayNow to launch a service called Speak2Tweet. This was their way of helping Egyptians and others inside Egypt find a way to communicate with the outside world. People in Egypt call a certain number and are able to leave an audio message which is then posted immediately on the SayNow website, as well as on Speak2Tweet’s twitter account. Despite most of them being in Arabic, volunteers from all over the world are translating them into English, Spanish, and French.

Other Social Networks such as Facebook and YouTube have also been playing a major part in the Egyptian uprising, with Facebook pages popping up all over the world regarding the uprising in Egypt. Videos of the protests as well as news are being posted and shared by the thousands.

All of this leads to the ultimate question: What role should social networks take when it comes to Politics and various human rights issues such as what just happened in Egypt? Should Facebook and Twitter ‘take sides’?