However you might feel about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Parler, and other platforms, social media is here to stay. Beyond staying in touch with your college friends and extended family members, it can be extremely valuable as a tool when disaster hits your area. For example, think about how social media…
- Has enabled us to communicate with and locate loved ones in affected areas.
- Can be used as a tool for community organizing, relief, and donation efforts.
- Keeps us aware of what’s happening and where so we can remain safe and vigilant.
But using these social media platforms in an effective and responsible manner isn’t so simple. Unfortunately, misuse of the platforms can do more harm than good, from spreading misinformation and causing additional unwarranted hysteria to making you a vulnerable target if you share too much about valuable supplies you have on hand. There are tried-and-true ways you should and shouldn’t use platforms like Twitter and Instagram when disaster strikes.
Today, we’re going to cover some of these key dos and don’ts. Gaining this understanding now versus later will prepare you to face any situation with the odds stacked in your favor.
DO check your sources
Whether it be a hurricane, earthquake, fire, or even social unrest, misinformation is rampant on social media. It’s important to know how to sift out the noise from the real, hard facts. Your life and others’ lives depend on accurate info, so be careful of the source. For example, WIRED shared instances in which…
- People have circulated falsified news and doctored images of sharks in the sky when hurricanes hit.
- People posted fake reports advising people to store valuables in the dishwasher.
- A Facebook event was created during Hurricane Irma that invited people to shoot guns into the storm.
Aim to cross-check information shared on social media with reports from reputable news outlets. If you want an extra layer of accuracy, utilize fact-checking organizations such as Factcheck.org and Snopes.
In addition to checking that the information you’re taking in from others is correct, make sure you aren't part of the problem either. In other words, don’t overdramatize and stick to the facts. Spreading misinformation and drumming up the stakes can lead to mass hysteria and panic--making a bad situation even worse. We all know how quickly posts can go viral, so consider it your civic responsibility to keep everyone as calm and informed as possible. Here are a few additional points to keep in mind…
- Be careful about what you reshare. According to Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, “During Irma, there was a bunch of issues with [people sharing] videos that were either of different weather events or at least not as described on Twitter. You need to hold yourself accountable, too. If you see a Twitter feed that you don’t know tweeting information or images, be careful before you push that along.”
- Rely on primary sources rather than hearsay. Additionally, when sharing information, include the source link for where you found the information.
- Don’t co-opt relief-focused hashtags. People use trending emergency hashtags to locate the missing, share important information about affected areas, and for other important functions. Refrain from using the hashtag if you’re making a joke or posting something that’s generally not going to be useful to people using the hashtag for life-saving reasons.
DO consistently monitor situations
Your sense of situational awareness can be sharpened using social media. Following local and national news organizations as well as people you know can keep you in the know of what’s happening and what you’re at risk for. For example, you can receive live updates before, during, and even after a disaster to remain aware of highway closures, weather forecasts, evacuation orders, and more.
Living in the age of social media means that we are increasingly comfortable with sharing everything from what we ate for breakfast to where we’re going for vacation. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough and people get desperate, you can’t take the risk of sharing too much information. Posting that you have food supplies, extra gasoline, and other valuable items can make you a target, especially during times of civil unrest.
Also, although you may feel the need to share your location tags on posts and Instagram stories, be sure to take a moment and analyze whether sharing where you are could put you at increased risk of robbery and personal harm.
DO use it as an organizing and rescue tool
Once a disaster has already occured, social media can come in handy as an emergency management tool. For example, WIRED reported that “When 911 dispatchers couldn't be reached during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, people trapped by the rising waters used Twitter, Facebook, and even NextDoor to reach authorities.”
Make sure you’re proactive and make it easy for people to know you’re safe. If you have data or Internet access once a disaster has hit, take the time to check in on social media and confirm that you’re uninjured and in the clear. Facebook even has a check-in feature built into the platform so users can mark themselves as safe if and when a disaster has hit their area. The great thing with social media is that we don’t have to necessarily rely on the authorities to organize relief and rescue efforts. Citizens can come together and take action themselves, from taking in victim requests for assistance and gathering supplies to locating loved ones and assessing damage in the community. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, the creation of the Facebook group “Hurricane Harvey 2017 - Together We Will Make It” enabled both authorities and citizens to collaborate on relief efforts.
DO keep your devices charged
Lastly, what good is social media if you can’t access the apps or websites? Don’t wait until you get down to 10% battery. Be sure to keep your devices (phones, tablets, laptops) charged at least half way at all times. Since the power grid might be out of commission, you’ll want to stock up on several solar-powered chargers.
Though social media certainly has its downsides, there’s no denying that it has enabled us to achieve a lot of things that weren’t possible before these platforms existed. Being mindful about how we use them during times of crisis can make a big difference and improve our collective chances of survival.
Stay safe, and have a great weekend.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply