Use of Social Media during Calamities

Filipinler Haiyan Tayfunu

Natural calamities have become rampant in the past few decades, and their occurrence is expected to surge in the future. The planet has been hit by fatal disasters such as Hurricane Katrina which occurred in the US in 2005, flooding in Louisianan in 2016, Volcanic eruption in Guatemala in 2018, earthquakes in Haiti in 2010, the heatwave in Pakistan in 2018, floods in Nigeria in 2018 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines that claimed more than 6000 lives in 2013.

Communication plays a pivotal role in disaster management. Unfortunately, most conventional communication channels are vandalized or unreachable during calamities. Due to easy access through smartphones, social media has played and continues to play a critical role in disaster response prior, during, and after the tragedy. Social networks help the affected families to seek food, transport, and shelter aid from the well-wishers as well as enabling people to contact friends and relatives in affected areas and mobilize resources to assist the victims.

Use of Social Media in Three Phases of a Calamity

Prior to a disaster, social media plays a critical role in warning the residents about the imminent calamity. During this phase, governmental and non-governmental organizations can post on various networking channels to create awareness of the safety procedures, where to get help in case affected, and reassuring the public that the agencies are doing their best to mitigate the tragedy. For instance, before the Sandy Storm in 2012, the National Hurricane Center used Facebook to sensitize the residents about the hurricane progression and the areas that were likely to be affected.

The efficient flow of information is paramount during the natural calamity, and social media has always risen to the occasion. Social networking enables users to share safety tips and request help from the relevant authorities. For example, social media was used to collect and spread data concerning the floods a flood event in Wuhan City, China, in 2016, where 14 people perished, 167,897 residents were displaced, and 370 buildings destroyed. “The usage of social media during the flood event improved the velocity, credibility, and richness of information related to the flood and met public demands to know more about the state of affairs regarding the flood.”

Social networks play a critical role during the recovery phase to inform the public on the form of aid needed, tracing the victims, the region most devastated by the calamity, and update on what the agencies are doing to address the situation. Facebook, for example, introduced a ‘Safety Check‘ feature in 2014, which enable individuals in the affected regions to mark themselves safe after a calamity. The feature has been deployed in a number of disasters, such as during Afghanistan earthquakes, Typhoon Ruby, and Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Photo Courtesy: Facebook, Victorians Stand Together for Nepal, like their page @VictoriansForNepal

Social media is also used to mobilize the resources required to assist victims during the recovery process. Twitter and Facebook are often used to raise charity funds from well-wishers and inviting volunteers to offer various humanitarian services. After the earthquake disaster in Nepal, the Non-Resident Nepali Association Australia created a page named ‘Victorians Stand Together for Nepal,’ which helped in mobilizing resources to assist the victims. Large volumes of blankets and clothes were received, and the drive raised $583,758.

Due to easy accessibility, social media plays a crucial role during a natural disaster. Social networks are important in raising awareness, sharing safety tips, mobilizing humanitarian aid, and building public confidence in the relevant agencies. Social media also helps in tracing the victims of a disaster and enables friends and relatives to check on each other through features such as Facebook’s ‘Safety Check.’ Finally, what are the limitations of social media use during calamities?

Use of Social Media during Calamities/ #‘Victorians Stand Together for Nepal/

How to use social media effectively during Calamities #naturaldisasters #flood #savetheworld/

Social Media Addiction

Social Media Addiction/ hands tied by strong rope with mobile

Do you constantly feel the urge to use social media?  Do you feel restless when you’re unable to access it? You might be addicted to social media platforms. Studies indicate that approximately 12% of social media users are addicted to social networking. This is a huge number considering that Facebook has over 2 billion subscribers. The shift from average to problematic social networking behaviors happens when a person perceives a social platform as a vital mechanism of relieving loneliness, stress, or depression.

The unending freight train of likes and compliments offer instant gratification, temporarily uplifting the person’s self-esteem. Social media ultimately harms a user’s socializing and networking skills, leaving them with millions of online friends but no one to have deep, meaningful conversations with. However, despite the alarming rates of dependency syndrome, social media addiction has not yet been categorized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, as evidenced by its omission in the mental diagnostic tool- DSM-5. Nonetheless, there is compelling evidence that it affects social life, studies, and job performance.

Social media addicts exhibit withdrawal symptoms, just like it is observed in other addictions. A study by Phil et al. (6-7) at Swansea University revealed that people who stopped using social platforms undergo a wide array of psychological effects. They found that there was an increase in heart rate and systolic pressure after cessation. The addicts also had elevated levels of anxiety and negative mood-symptoms that are common when withdrawing from depressant substances.

Social Media Addiction and Self-Esteem

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Social media addiction positively co-relates with low self-esteem. The victims are constantly exposed to other user’s glorified and selective online ‘standards,’ which results in unnecessary pressures and demoralization. The platforms make one believe that others are happier and are doing better academically or financially, especially if you do not know them offline.

The dependency on one’s followers for approval makes the matter even worse since a negative comment is likely to affect the person’s self-esteem immensely.

Prevention/Mitigation Strategies

If you suspect that you are a social media addict, you should undergo a digital detox therapy. The strategy entails simple steps like muting notifications, only checking social media in specific intervals such as one after every hour. The victims should also have a schedule of self-imposed non-screen time where one keeps the smartphone in a place that he/she cannot access it easily to minimize the temptation. Others include buying a wristwatch, avoid using a smartphone as an alarm, and engaging in activities that do not require technology.

Institutions should also take measures that are aimed at minimizing or prohibiting the use of social media. The employers should ban workers from accessing social platforms during working hours while schools should veto them in classrooms. Restaurants can discourage customers from using social media at their premises by offering a discount to those who don’t use it as it was done by the Sushi Lounge in New Jersey. The management introduced a “Reconnect Tuesday” where those who put their phones in a box placed on the table enjoy a 20% discount.

Social media addiction is a problem of global concern since it affects the victim’s self-esteem, productivity, and mental health. Worst of all, this is a multifaceted problem that exhibits differently in different people, making them wonder which strategies work for them and which don’t. For most people, this addiction stems either from loneliness or boredom. Healthy, productive activities can help mitigate this overdependence on social media. So, the next time you feel the urge to log in, think about reading a book, taking up a new hobby or talking to a close friend or sibling instead.

Social Media Addiction #digital detox

Do you constantly feel the urge to use social media? #digital detox #self-imposed non-screen time

Social media addiction is a bigger problem than you think ##digital detox

Youth and Social Media as a Driver for Social Change

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” said Greta Thunberg while addressing over 60 leaders at the UN Climate Change Summit held in New York. The 17-year-old Swedish national is one of the young activists who leverages the power of social media platforms, such as  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to drive social change. Thunberg’s activism led to a global climate strike dubbed as #FridaysforFuture in major cities on 20 September 2019.

Photo Courtesy: Greta Thunberg, follow her on Facebook @gretathunbergsweden

Social platforms have been used to create disaster awareness, rebuke racial injustice, and organize revolts against despotic regimes. For instance, after the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan in China and its recognition as a global pandemic by WHO, young people have played a critical role in sensitization through social media, using hashtags, such as #COVIDIDIOTS,#StayHome, and #StayHomeSaveLives. Thus, social media serves as a key driver of societal change, a tool of coordination, and a platform for a wide array of social initiatives.

Politics and Revolutions

The advent of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook in the 21st century offered new avenues for youth to be in touch with leaders and engage in political activism. Therefore, these platforms have revolutionized political engagement of the public as they provide opportunities to post under hashtags, create and join groups, comment on current topics or include one’s political inclination on the bio section of Twitter and Facebook. Young people have embraced social media as an instrument for political mobilization, and this trend even resulted in regime changes in many countries. A case in point is the Arab Spring in 2011, which  is heralded by youths in the Middle East who used social media to mobilize and revolt against despotic regimes in countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. For example, the organizers of Egypt’s revolution created and used a Facebook page, the 6th of April Youth Movement, to recruit members and share details about their cause of action. The group created a Facebook event on 25 January 2011, requesting members to take to the street with explicit guidelines on how to pile pressure on and topple the government.

Climate Change

Destroying the planet – Nuclear bomb and pollution in landscape, radiation and smog creating the end of the world, apocalypse, catastrophe, no future concept.

Globally, the young generation is using social media to raise awareness about climate change with the realization that they are bearing the consequences of the actions and decisions of the present-day leaders. Though teenagers have been campaigning against environmental degradation for decades, social media makes the new generation of activists more visible to the global community. Social media creates a ripple effect on the activities of youngsters. Thus, activists like Thunberg are able to vent climatic issues that the current leaders do not want to address due to the conflict of interests.

Disasters and Disease Awareness

In many instances, social media platforms have been used to create awareness about calamities and diseases. Today, in the period of the COVID-19 global pandemic, young people are using social media platforms to sensitize people against panic buying through the hashtag #COVIDIDIOTS, and the importance of social distancing by #StayHomeSaveLives. Images and videos on preventive measures are also circulated on these platforms. Besides, governments and health organizations such as WHO are using social media to update the public on the precautionary measures to take, and give information about the number of infections in different countries and cases of death.

Social media plays a crucial role in driving social change in modern societies. Young activists have leveraged on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to campaign against racism and climate change, and topple dictatorial regimes. The Arab Spring in the Middle East and #FridaysforFuture global climatic strikes are some of the successful social movements initiated by young people through social media. Finally, do you know about any other social media-driven social change in the modern world? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Youth and Social Media as a Driver for Social Change/Politics and Revolutions #FridaysforFuture

Youth and Social Media as a Driver for Social Change #COVIDIDIOTS #StayHomeSaveLive

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Bullying on Social Media: Where to Draw the Lines

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The advent of social media platforms has resulted in profound changes in how people express themselves, find leisure, interact with each other, and contribute to global and local socio-political issues. According to Esteban Ortiz from Our World in Data, 3.5 billion people have access to social media globally, which implies that one out of every three people has a social media account. Facebook, for example, had 2.5 billion monthly users by the end of 2019. Social media enables users to share photos, ideas, chat, and connect with friends. However, disgruntled individuals have misused it to bully, body shame, or cause fear. A recent estimate suggests that while 47% of the youths have been victims of social media bullying, 71% of them feel concerned about it. Suicide cases among teenagers have also increased by 56% from 2007 to 2017. All stakeholders must, therefore, step up and address the issue to prevent premature deaths and psychological problems

Teenage bullying on smart phone
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How the Bullying Happens

Social media bullying takes many forms depending on the platform used. For example, on Twitter, an individual might write mean, hurtful, and emotionally draining comments about a fellow student or workmate. On Instagram and Facebook, bullies post malicious or demeaning words in the comment section mainly about the victim’s physical appearance (fat, thin, or malnourished), social status, and economic and ethnic background. Some may use the platforms to hurl insults, blackmail, or shame victims. A case in point is Mallory, a 12-year-old girl from New Jersey who committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates. Her mother reported, “For months there were texts, Snapchat and Instagram — she was told she was a loser, she had no friends. She was even told, ‘why don’t you kill yourself.’” Though some people may glorify it as ‘banter,’ it is wrong, unethical, and unacceptable

Mitigation and Coping Strategies

In the 21st century, we cannot do away with social media, but there should be measures to make it a safe place. Studies suggest that promoting an individual’s self-esteem and empathy, nurturing warm-cordial relationships with parents/guardians, and limiting the time spent on social media will go a long way in addressing the problem, especially among teenagers. Moreover, there is a need for strict legislation to deal with this digital menace since, currently, online platforms operate is a system of self-regulation.

The concept has led to a conflict of interest as the companies strive to be flexible to evolve and keep their subscribers. Though there are links for reporting abusive, malicious, and inappropriate content, the corporations have been reluctant to act, and when they do, the response has been inconsistent. Social Support is also a critical factor in preventing the adverse effects of social media bullying.

Victims need continuous reassurance that they are beautiful, charming, loveable, and so forth. However, most sufferers are silent about their predicaments. Creating a friendly environment with children is a sure way of building a caring and trusting relationship that would allow them to speak up. It is also essential to study your kid’s behavior. Besides, all users should feel obligated to report instances of social media bullying to the relevant authorities.

Social media bullying is a menace that requires a concerted effort from all actors to mitigate. Many have committed suicide because of it, and therefore the government should put in place stricter measures to regulate such activities. Parents also have a role to play in protecting and empowering their teenagers against social media bullying. Every subscriber has a moral duty to report any demeaning, malicious, or inappropriate content. Lastly, do you think there is a difference between banter and bullying?