I attended the Health and Humanitarian Logistics conference last week. The conference was great, and I was pleasantly surprised that most of the speakers and attendees were from NGOs, government, and private industry. This provided a great opportunity for practical, interdisciplinary discussions.
Although there were many excellent talks, I am going to highlight one particular talk from the conference that addressed the use of social media in humanitarian response.
Mark Keim, MD, from the CDC talked about how social networking changed the response to the Haiti earthquake compared to earlier disasters. Compared to traditional, hierarchical networks, the peer to peer network is individual (instead of organized), public (as opposed to institutional), immediate (instead of delayed), dynamic (instead of static), and much more adaptive and scalable (compared toa hierarchical network). Peer to peer networks offer advantages as well as challenges during a disaster.
Keim summarized some of the differences he noticed during the Haiti response:
There were several million tweets about Haiti within 48 hours of the earthquake. They started within minutes. This provided immediate information, which was crucial since it took the response teams much longer to get to Haiti (we didn’t have to wait days to hear updates from Haiti).
The Red Cross raised $25M via text message (this article claims $35M within 48 hours). The instructions were spread throughout FaceBook, twitter, and other social networking tools.
Blogs, twitter, and youtube increased Haiti coverage when coverage decreased on news networks and sites (about 11 days after the disaster), illustrated by Jan 23 on the google trends figure below. This illustrated a metaphorical hand off from the news sites to individuals after the disaster.
Google trend search volume as a function of time, January 2010
During the disaster, Keim’s team noticed that a map of the shelters was posted online by a presumably unknown user (this is an example, but not the one in the talk). It was wonderful that someone adapted to provide this information, but could it be trusted to allocate resources? Social networking provides more information (and the information that is typically needed in the moment), but credibility remains a large issue. However, one attendant noted that the so-called credible information (e.g., from government agencies) is often biased and inaccurate, which isn’t really a better alternative.
I know that I blogged about Haiti. How did you use social media in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake?