Social Media and Disasters, and More from CRS

The growing use of social media — such as Twitter and Facebook — in responding to emergency situations is examined in a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

“In the last five years social media have played an increasing role in emergencies and disasters,” the report notes. “Social media sites rank as the fourth most popular source to access emergency information. They have been used by individuals and communities to warn others of unsafe areas or situations, inform friends and family that someone is safe, and raise funds for disaster relief.”

While they have still untapped potential for improving emergency communications, social media can also be used — inadvertently or maliciously — to disseminate false or misleading information, the report observes. See “Social Media and Disasters: Current Uses, Future Options, and Policy Considerations,” September 6, 2011.

With few exceptions, congressional leaders of both parties are opposed to allowing direct public access to Congressional Research Service reports like this one.  Perhaps they wish to foster a healthy public skepticism about the validity of official restrictions on government information, or a heightened appreciation for unauthorized disclosures.

At any rate, some recent CRS reports that are not publicly available from CRS include the following (all pdf).

“India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations,” September 1, 2011. (This report notes in passing the curious statistic that “some 40% of American hotel rooms are owned by Indian-Americans.”)

“Desalination: Technologies, Use, and Congressional Issues,” August 15, 2011.

“U.S. Energy: Overview and Key Statistics,” July 29, 2011.

“U.S. Renewable Electricity Generation: Resources and Challenges,” August 5, 2011.

One Response to “Social Media and Disasters, and More from CRS”

  1. George Smith September 15, 2011 at 3:29 PM #

    They have been used by individuals and communities to warn others of unsafe areas or situations, inform friends and family that someone is safe, and raise funds for disaster relief.”

    One supposes it’s worth mentioning the report is almost entirely free of any examples of social media doing anything telephones, tv and the emergency broadcast system still do.

    There is a mention that some Japanese “tweeted” they needed assistance when they could not use a telephone. This asks for a bit more explanation if it is more than a piece of apocrypha. Does it mean the telephones in the house failed but a pc did not? Does it mean that they were actually using a cell phone but could not reach an emergency line or relative and instead used the phone’s capability to post to Twitter?

    It would be my take that in a major disaster social media may have some minor role to play but that, depending on the demographics and the severity of the disaster, we’ll still be reliant on non-social media and government robustness to fulfill this role, not Internet crowd-sourcing. If I were buried on the rubble in soCal in some future earthquake I think I would trust being able to reach a person, like a friend or family member by voice or even recorded message before posting something to Twitter and hoping someone would notice amid the ocean of replies. It might not occur to me to search for the right hashtag like #helpimburiedunderrubbleandcantgetout.

    “21 Tweets,” the button reads. It would seem things about tweeting and Twitter are magnetic in the same manner as posts on Wikileaks, BitCoin, and other such things beloved and scanned for by the tech audience.