Emergent use of social media: a new age of opportunity for disaster resilience

Am J Disaster Med. 2011 Jan-Feb;6(1):47-54.


Social media are forms of information and communication technology disseminated through social interaction. Social media rely on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks that are collaborative, decentralized, and community driven. They transform people from content consumers into content producers. Popular networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Google are versions of social media that are most commonly used for connecting with friends, relatives, and employees. The role of social media in disaster management became galvanized during the world response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. During the immediate aftermath, much of what people around the world were learning about the earthquake originated from social media sources. Social media became the new forum for collective intelligence, social convergence, and community activism. During the first 2 days following the earthquake, "texting" mobile phone users donated more than $5 million to the American Red Cross. Both public and private response agencies used Google Maps. Millions joined MySpace and Facebook discussion groups to share information, donate money, and offer comfort and support. Social media has also been described as "remarkably well organized, self correcting, accurate, and concentrated," calling into question the ingrained view of unidirectional, official-to-public information broadcasts. Social media may also offer potential psychological benefit for vulnerable populations gained through participation as stakeholders in the response. Disaster victims report a psychological need to contribute, and by doing so, they are better able to cope with their situation. Affected populations may gain resilience by replacing their helplessness with dignity, control, as well as personal and collective responsibility. However, widespread use of social media also involves several important challenges for disaster management. Although social media is growing rapidly, it remains less widespread and accessible than traditional media. Also, public officials often view P2P communications as "backchannels" with potential to spread misinformation and rumor. In addition, in absence of the normal checks and balances that regulate traditional media, privacy rights violations can occur as people use social media to describe personal events and circumstances.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Blogging
  • Disasters*
  • Earthquakes*
  • Gift Giving
  • Haiti
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Internet*
  • Resilience, Psychological