What are the social sites you use during disasters?

The Red River Flooding of 2009 isn’t the first crisis that had people using social media from the front lines. As new communication tools keep disaster victims in touch with each other, the rest of us are also lurking and observing.

It changes the nature of news coverage and it changes the way others tune into the crisis. News organizations like WCCO and The Star Tribune – and including our own newsroom – included a Twitter feed of updates that relate to the Red River flood. For the Twitter user, this extends the instant publication and for the reader this is an instant report.

No matter what the crisis, does it matter to the individual as long as friends, family, and even FEMA (@femainfocus) might be following the Tweets and Facebook updates? Or that media producers review video and photo sites? This sort of “crowdstalking” is another way for the media to discover and define their own coverage.

Today The American Public Health Association is holding a social media and crisis communication roundtable. I’m hoping to get a recap or a link to their aggregated content around the topic, but haven’t heard back from them yet. So far I’m eavesdropping on the updates via the session’s Twitter tag, #risk20.

All this messaging and updating across multiple sites makes me wonder what your online tool of choice is during a disaster. What works for you online…and how? If you’re not involved in the crisis which tool do you use to get first person reports?

  • Caryn

    Interesting question — will be looking to these sites to see how the idea of news, reaction and personal stories intersect. For me, it would depend on the nature of the event and the personal level of involvement to determine which service I would turn to. If it were something that I wanted to see a trend or real-time evolution on, I’d turn to twitter. Supplementing that with something like Flickr can provide an “on the ground” view of how something is really unfolding. If it were a case where I was more interested in understanding how it affected my closer social circle, I’d use Facebook or an established online community. Most likely for a news event or a crisis, I see Twitter providing a broader cross section of instant reactions. I think, though, it’s important to note how crucial sites and organizations like this one (and gov’t agencies) play in keeping this stream of updates grounded.

  • bsimon

    its not much of a social site, but news cut covered the last disaster pretty well.

  • http://minnesota.publicradio.org/your_voice/ Julia Schrenkler, MPR

    Thanks, Caryn. You wrote,

    “I think, though, it’s important to note how crucial sites and organizations like this one (and gov’t agencies) play in keeping this stream of updates grounded.”

    And it struck me I don’t have a solid handle on how the BIG agencies push info out during a crisis. I’ll follow up on the APHA event.

    bsimon, Bob would appreciate your comment. FWIW, I’d give News Cut some social site status. I think about the comments left by volunteers and the residents of Riverview Circle and can see the social aspects.

  • http://spot.colorado.edu/~suttonj Jeannette Sutton

    Hi Julia,

    I do research on social media in disasters and the question you raised about “crowdstalking” is one that I’ve been tossing about with the law professors here at CU. This is an excellent question that really raises issues about privacy online and within social networks. Thanks for asking the question.

  • Anna

    What social networking sites I might use to follow developments of a disaster might largely rely on how connected I am to that disaster. For this flood, I’ve mostly been following NewsCut for the “story inside the story” (and have read other blogs to follow other stories and news). If it were a situation where I might have friends, acquaintances, or relatives closer to the action, I might make use of Facebook to track events. (Or, if I were signed up for the right news and organization pages, I could probably do some tracking on FB that way, too – but not much came through on my NPR FB feed about the flood…)

  • http://www.survivalstreet.com Lorrie

    It’s important that the news gets out in a timely manner. Both Twitter and Facebook have been doing a fair amount of updating and refining of their sites to improve their usability. I think it’s more of a personal preference than the question of which one is better.