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Barb's Bits and Bytes

Web 2.0 for learning and teaching - the continuing online adventures of a not-so-techie teacher

April 27, 2011

When Facebook Becomes a Lifeline

I first joined Facebook after my 30th high school reunion--being able to connect with pre-Internet friends online felt like a miracle! I never thought I'd turn to Facebook during a disaster. But, on March 11, 2001 at 2:46 p.m. Facebook became a lifeline. When the phones failed, Facebook was (somewhat surprisingly) still there.


I first heard about the earthquake on Twitter, and that remained the best source of "live" news in those early hours after the Big One and subsequent tsunami. If you're interested in a good read about Twitter as a lifeline, Clarissa has an excellent post about Twitter's role during the disaster on her blog, Talk to the Clouds.


Following Twitter on the night of the 11th felt a bit like following the social media version of ham radio broadcasts--messages sent out to whomever might be listening. With thousands of messages each second, it was a bit difficult to identify a singular voice among the many.


Facebook, in contrast, was like the centrally located bulletin board where messages were posted, and where people could interact with those messages. Think of circles of friends and family, with overlap. Interestingly, when landlines were down, people were able to access Facebook (and Skype) on Internet-friendly mobile phones.


Facebook was where people checked in. Facebook was where people checked on people who hadn't yet checked in. In the aftermath, circles of connections grew, as friends added friends of friends. It was a real life lesson on the value of networks.


In the days following the quake and tsunami, Facebook became an information hub. Ad hoc groups like Disaster News Straight from Japan for English Speakers posted English translations of Japanese news stories. Relief organizations like Hope, Peace Boat, Second Harvest, and Animal Rescue Japan made it easy to follow their efforts, and successes, by posting updates and pictures on their Facebook pages.


When disaster strikes, it's good to have Facebook friends :-)

How about you? How did you use Facebook, Twitter, or Skype during or after the quake? Please share your stories in comments. We'd all love to hear them!

« So, what's Twitter good for, anyway? | Main | Geeky Fun for Language Lovers »


Twitter was already good for emergencies a couple of years ago...especially during my country's Victorian bushfires. Then it and Facebook served vital roles in a whole heap of emergencies since December...the Israel Mt. Carmel fire, the Queensland/Brisbane floods, three Australian tropical cyclones, two Victorian floods AND the Christchurch earthquake.

The key hashtags on Twitter are like emergency channels, although there's still the odd piece of information that needs to be confirmed or rechecked.

But Facebook pages and Facebook groups have also served vital roles as shown by Queensland Police Service Media (@QPSMedia) for dissemination of emergency information and links to resources, as well as for news announcements.

Thanks, George! I remember seeing Twitter messages about the floods and earthquakes.

I like the image of hashtags serving as emergency channels--it is an easy way of understanding how to search for information on Twitter. One thing I noticed right after the Japan quake was that it takes some time for the hashtags to become uniform. The tags become more useful once most messages rely on a few common tags to keep them together and searchable.

I hope Australia and New Zealand have fewer reasons to need Twitter and Facebook for emergencies in the future :-)

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