COM0011 Blog 2 — Social Media: A Matter of Life and Death?

What started out at the turn of the millennium as a social networking tool to reconnect former classmates and work colleagues has quickly became a reality of every-day life. Now, social media could be transforming into a life-saving communications tool.

Similar to the way a geographical community comes together to help others in times of trouble, social media communities have made the news for doing the same thing. Whether it was the devastating earthquakes that shook Nepal late last April, the terror attacks in Paris, France, in November, or the floods in Chennai, India, in December, Skype made all domestic and international calls to landlines and mobile phones into and out of affected areas free of charge for a limited time. According to Skype,

“Since no one knows the full extent of the devastation [in Nepal], we want to help provide people with alternative methods of communication to reach friends and family in the region during this difficult time.”

Facebook developed Safety Check to make it easy for users to let family and friends know they are safe during a disaster, such as the Paris attacks. If Facebook’s algorithms indicate you may be near a natural disaster or emergency zone, the app will ask you if you’re safe. You can tap on “I’m Safe” or “I’m not in the area” to immediately alert all of your Facebook friends.

As the CBC reported, 4.1 million people used Safety Check to reach more than 360 million family and friends within the first 24 hours after the Paris attacks.

People used the Twitter hashtags #PorteOuverte and #OpenDoors to tweet safe places to go, including their homes, Sikh temples, and phone numbers for various embassies. For French citizens stranded outside of France while its borders were closed, embassy phone numbers in various countries around the world were also provided on the Twitter page.


The next step in the evolution

Receiving less news coverage is how government agencies are starting to come onto the social media scene — sometimes even before disaster strikes.

The National Public Alerting System (NPAS) is a federal-provincial-territorial system that provides a standard alerting platform across Canada. Authorized government agencies can send emergency alerts through the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination system, which is just one part of NPAS. Broadcast distributors — radio, television, email, and SMS text services — then rapidly warn the public about tornados and other weather watches and warnings, forest and industrial fires, train derailments, chemical spills, water contamination, and missing people. According to a Public Safety Canada,

“This is an important safety system for Canadians . . . As the system expands to include the participation of cell phone companies, social media web sites and other internet and multimedia distributors, even more Canadians will be alerted to emergencies that could affect their safety.”

Similar to how Safety Check bypasses the traditional Facebook algorithm to send a message out to all of a user’s friends and family, NPAS would warn every social media user in an alert area of a potential danger. This could turn the popularity of social networking into an effective emergency networking system.


6 thoughts on “COM0011 Blog 2 — Social Media: A Matter of Life and Death?

  1. I think the use of social media in natural disaster and crisis situations is a genius use of the medium. During the Paris attacks, with friends and acquaintances living in Paris, it was a huge relief to see them check in on Facebook using “Safety Check”. I think this is a natural evolution of social media, as before these systems were put into place many people during these types of events would post a message letting friends and family know they were safe or what was happening (#porteouverte is an beautiful and organic next level to this). These are wonderful examples of “social good” and their evolution will hopefully help save lives.

  2. I find a lot of blogs are just a re hash of what is pretty evident. The you get blogs that actually have pertinent information in them and you learn something. Thanks. I like to see a purpose to social media rather than selling or fluff filler internet content.

  3. You never know when a disaster or emergency will strike. Alerting the masses to a potential danger or reconnecting loved one’s after an emergency can be difficult in the aftermath. Using social media’s networking potential is an exceptional way to do this and to update loved ones who are far away. It will be so helpful for people who are forced to be on the move (such as evacuees). This was a well-written and informative read. I had never heard about Safety Check before.

  4. Update:
    New research from Penn State indicates that emergency response crews can benefit from looking at social media posts to see which regions are affected most (see While responders commonly use satellite imagery, research into the September 2013 floods in Colorado showed the potential for social media to build a clearer picture of what can be a quickly changing situation.

    “Because the flooding occurred in an urban setting, the researchers were able to access more than 150,000 tweets from people affected by the flooding. Using a tool called CarbonScanner, they identified clusters of posts suggesting possible locations of damage. Then, they analyzed more than 22,000 photos from the area obtained through satellites, Twitter, Flickr, the Civil Air Patrol, unmanned aerial vehicles and other sources.”

    Future research will include Facebook and Instagram.

  5. Pingback: Social Good – Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

  6. What a great way to use social media. It’s true that on a daily basis, we end up getting a lot of advertising or useless information, even simply an overload of a little bit of everything. However, when a crisis happens, what an instant response! It is such a powerful tool to be able to know right away if someone is okay, and to know what we can do at that moment to help out in the best way possible. However, it’s only useful for the ones who have access to the internet. I remember when I was stuck in New Zealand during an earthquake. I had no way to reach my parents, and all they saw from the media were broken buildings and titles about tons of missing people. Social Media has so much potential to do good, but can also create bigger disasters depending on what they share when and how.

    I love how they’ve used it in what you describe in your post though. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s