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ACCESS THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR GOOD AND BAD IN

DISASTER

Introduction

There is a growing awareness worldwide of the significance of social media to

communication in times of both natural and human-created disasters and crises.

While the media have long been used as a means of broadcasting messages to

communities in times of crisis – bushfires, floods, earthquakes etc. – the significance

of social media in enabling many-to-many communication through ubiquitous

networked computing and mobile media devices is becoming increasingly important

in the fields of disaster and emergency management.

Social media and collaborative technologies have become critical components of

emergency preparedness, response and recovery. From international response efforts

after large-scale disasters to domestic response and recovery after events affecting the

United States, many government officials now turn to social media technologies to

share information and connect with citizens during all phases of a crisis.

Implementing these new technologies, however, requires responding agencies adopt

new communication strategies, policies and engagement methods.

Recognizing the need to address these challenges, the U.S. Department of Homeland

Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) established a Virtual


Social Media Working Group (VSMWG) in 2010. After Public Law 114-80 was

passed, the VSMWG was re-named as the Social Media Working Group for

Emergency Services and Disaster Management (SMWGESDM). The mission of the

SMWGESDM is to provide recommendations to the emergency preparedness and

response community on the safe and sustainable use of social media technologies

before, during and after emergencies. The SMWGESDM is a subcommittee of the

Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee (HSSTAC). The

HSSTAC approved the recommendations contained in this white paper by consensus

vote on February 22, 2018.

The starting place of disaster dates back to the beginning of humanity and that

explains why each time the issues of disaster and disaster control are stated; they may

be usually mentioned on the subject of mankind and its surroundings. Through the

years, there have been disastrous occurrences within the global a few with marginal

impacts whilst some others with massive effects. Disaster takes place everywhere, it

could be natural or man-made and when it moves, it makes no difference between

advanced and growing international locations. From US to Europe and Africa to

Asia, there may be no part of the sector that has now not experienced one shape of

disaster or the opposite. The only distinction is inside the degree of effect it had at the

affected place and those, that's a characteristic of the effectiveness of catastrophe

caution device installed vicinity. as an instance, hurricane Katrina (2005) that caused
severe damages really worth US$ 25billion and approximately US$ 75billion in

healing recorded a long way much less casualty than the Indian Ocean Tsunamis in

Sri Lanka (2004) and Pakistan earthquake (2005). while hurricane Katrina claimed

approximately 1,604 lives and 2000 lacking in New Orleans, Sri Lanka misplaced

about 38,195 and Pakistan misplaced approximately one hundred,000 humans

respectively(http://news.bbc.co.uk ;http://www.cbsl.lk; http://www.nhc.noaa.gov).

2.Understanding the Social Media Landscape

The medium is not always the message. Social media devoid of purpose and content

would do little to enable people to prepare, respond and recover in the face of

disasters. Generically speaking, social media can be defined as “a form of new media

that facilitates social interaction and communication through the use of online

internet-based platforms.” Within this broad ambit, social media tools can be

categorised into the following:

a. Social networks and blogs. Social networking sites refer to sites that allow people

to build their own personal pages to enhance content sharing and communication

with other people (e.g., Facebook). Blogs are online journals or discussion sites used

to post content and relevant updates (e.g., The Huffington Post);

b. Bookmarking sites. This refers to websites that help people store, classify, share

and search links through the practice of folksonomy1 techniques on the internet (e.g.,
delicious.com, digg.com and reddit.com). When people tag and share content on

bookmarking sites, the visibility of shared content typically improves across the

board;

c. Collaborative projects. Collaborative projects are communal databases created

through user generated content (e.g., Wikipedia);

d. Content communities. Content communities are online communities where people

share various types of content such as photos, audio and videos (e.g., YouTube,

Flickr);

e. Social reviews. This refers to websites that allow people to search, rate and share

information as well as provide recommendations (e.g., Google Places). Using social

reviews, people are able to vote on content based on personal interest, inclinations

and perceived relevance.

In contrast to traditional forms of media, which are typically limited in reach and

restricted to the place of performance, social media tools are able to broadly

overcome these barriers because of five characteristics that differentiate them from

other forms of traditional media:

a. Collectivity. The collective nature of social media serves to connect people across

geographical boundaries and time zones via common platforms, to foster the growth

of online communities with similar interests;


b. Connectivity. Unlike other forms of media or communications, social media is able

to connect users to other resources through the sharing of web links;

c. Completeness. Social media is able to capture contributions and keep them in a

persistent state for others to view and share;

d. Clarity. Content on social media websites is usually highly visible, with

participating people aware of each other’s activities and content posted;

e. Collaboration. People are encouraged to share and contribute in areas they are

interested in, by gathering information and providing feedback.

3. The positive Impact of Social Media during disaster

Governments around the world are now making greater use of online and social

media as a platform for communication and engagement with their citizens, in order

to deliver better services and enhance citizen participation in policy deliberation. In

Australia, such work has been led by the Government 2.0 Task Force (Australian

Government Information Management Office, 2009), while the United States Open

Government Directive has been focused on achieving a greater transparency for

government information, drawing on the insights of social media theorists (Noveck,

2009). In practice, however, a range of administrative and political roadblocks can

mean that such initiatives are yet to generate the significant innovations that were

hoped for, especially as far as social media is concerned.


Disaster and emergency management has proven to be a field of communication

where innovative uses of social media have begun to have a substantial positive

impact on the quality of disaster responses and the resilience of affected local

communities. Substantial interest in these questions is already evident among

policymakers and government authorities, as well as NGOs and the media. Events in

2011 such as the Queensland Floods, Tropical Cyclone Yasi, the Christchurch

earthquake and the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan have highlighted the key

role that social media now play during natural disasters. The role of social media has

been documented in the media coverage of these events, by statements from the

emergency services, and in our own research (Bruns, 2011). For example, the

Queensland Police Service Media Unit (QPS Media) reported a tenfold increase in

the number of followers on its Facebook page (from 17,000 to 165,000) over the 24

hours following the 10 January 2011 Toowoomba flash floods (Charlton, 2011).

Social media has become the integral part of disaster response in the present era.

Ancient one-way communication days are long gone where the authorities used to

provide information regarding disaster on bulletins. Social media has captured every

sphere of our society, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are often used to be

connected, keep informed, locate loved ones and photo tags to find missing people,

express support and notify the authorities. According to Micheal Beckerman, “the
convergence of social networks and mobile has thrown out the response playbook out

of window”.

Emergency management has adapted social networks to broadcast information during

disasters. Every disaster has its own complex web of fast-paced information

exchange which enables quick response and allows the affected population to get

more prepared to face the adverse situation (Maron, 2013).

During any disaster situation, social media act as a useful medium focusing on

various aspects which require quick response. Social media plays a vital role at pre

disaster scenario by warning the public in advance and contributes in disaster

preparedness and mitigation. It acts as a channel to spread awareness. Media is an

effective medium for sending information, disseminating helpline numbers,

emergency phone numbers and locating the safe place and medical camps. It also

suppresses rumors to avoid panic situation. Social networking being a new outlook

has emerged as a new way to provide instant information during disasters. It is

generally used in four ways:

1. Sharing updates and spreading awareness of the condition

2. Creating communities and volunteers for relief operation

3. Fund raising

4. Monitoring and providing insights of the whole situation


Information exchange through social media is pivotal in tracking with accurate

hashtags and keywords (Harihar, 2015). Social media enables to take important

decision and actions during disaster, accuracy and timeliness of ground information is

necessary. There is a shift in the motive of social media from keeping in touch with

family, friends and colleagues to sharing information and interaction through internet.

During emergencies and disasters, social media becomes an important means of

communication. The use of social media has been used widely in many disasters like

Great East Japan Tsunami (2011), Mount Merapi Eruption in Indonesia (2010),

Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004) and Chennai floods (2015). Social media has five

characteristics in disaster management which includes collectivity, connectivity,

completeness, clarity and collaboration. It is the firsthand reporting of news, a tool

for updates and sharing it instantly with the public. It is also known as „backchannel‟

communication when the public is engaged in discussion and provides feedback.

Social media is active even when the other modes of communication fail (Annamalai,

Koay, & Lee, 2014).

4. Negative impact of social media during disaster

Social media platforms have allowed individuals and organizations to share

information with their peers and specific audiences for more than twenty years.

Information typically is shared with good intent; however, some people post on social

media to further an ulterior agenda. Their posts may include rumors, false
information and misinformation (e.g., deception, propaganda and malicious

spamming). Researchers have identified different characteristics of social media posts

that lead consumers of the posts to believe in an alternative, fake reality and

suspicious behavior (Pendleton, 1998; Jiang, Cui & Faloutsos, 2016). Characteristics

of false information may include uncertainty in the “facts,” emotional exploitation of

a situation, trending topic discussions for hijacking conversations and financial

scams, among others (Starbird, Spiro, Edwards, Zhou, Maddock & Narasimhan,

2016; Bessi & Ferrara, 2016; Huang, Starbird, Orand, Stanek & Pedersen, 2015)“An

example of false information with these characteristics is deceptive content with a

malicious agenda, such as diverting a user towards purchasing a particular product. 8

Such campaigns are also used to lead a user to believe in a fake negative opinion to

damage an object’s reputation; for example, fake reviews on online e-commerce

websites, such as Amazon or Yelp (Mukherjee, Liu, & Glance, 2012). Likewise,

deceptive false information has been posted in large-scale disasters for financial gain

(Gupta, Lamba & Kumaraguru, 2013). False information with a malicious agenda has

long existed in the form of propaganda, which has been used by terror and other

extremist/criminal organizations as a tactic to recruit (Allendorfer & Herring, 2015).

One of the biggest challenges public safety agencies and organizations face is how to

reduce or eliminate the spread of false information, especially as public demands for

a response from these authorities’ increases. Social media can distribute news faster
and to a wider audience than traditional news sources. However, that also means the

potential for misinformation, false information and rumors to spread and go viral is

high (Madhusree Mukerjee, 2017). A factor that may impede first responders’ ability

to mitigate and minimize the spread of misinformation, rumors and false information

is the decreasing public trust in government, media and nongovernmental

organizations (NGOs).

4.1Causes and Spread of False Information

In social media, misinformation, rumors and false information are most often caused

by four underlying issues, which are detailed more fully below:

1. Incorrect information - intentional versus unintentional;

2. Insufficient information;

3. Opportunistic disinformation;

4. Outdated information.

Incorrect Information; Incorrect information can be caused by situations where the

true situation is difficult to confirm. Radiation in Japan was a good example. After

the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in March 2011, many

rumors circulated regarding appropriate safety precautions, such as whether people

should evacuate, the possibility of food and water shortages, and whether there would
be additional radioactive releases (this example also illustrates insufficient

information).

Incorrect information and rumors can also be caused by individuals who wish to

create confusion. One example is when fake accounts are created that impersonates

an official account. Fairfax County, Virginia was proactive during a winter storm in

January 2014 as its school system was faced with many fake accounts announcing

incorrect closures. Government and schools worked together to actively advice

people where to find official information.

Insufficient Information; when information is slow to emerge on circumstances

surrounding an event, rumors can start rapidly. Insufficient information can be a

result of several factors, such as: not having clearance to release the data, lack of a

designated official for that information, or a belief that information must be complete

to release and therefore intentionally withheld. Confusion continues to arise when

official channels do not release information fast enough, provide information updates

in the right social media and traditional media channels, or the population is unaware

of or does not trust the official source for that information. The public will generally

follow and amplify official information when they can access information they

believe. This happened after the Nepal earthquake in 2015. When there is a new

emerging situation that can be confusing, agencies will open their channels of
information (such as a conference bridge for volunteers and partners), which can be

critical to avoiding mistakes in information management.

Opportunistic Disinformation; Opportunistic disinformation occurs when predatory

individuals attempt to capitalize on a particular event or incident. Opportunistic

misinformation generally falls into one of two categories: revenue generating and

financially incentivized, or malicious and politically incentivized. Revenue-

generating disinformation attempts to hijack the attention of social media users from

a particularly newsworthy happening, and redirect their attention for commercial

purposes. A phishing scam or spammer may mimic a pre-existing website and

redirect the user to a sales pitch or other ad (Cory, 2017). This technique is similar to

malware that operates by hijacking a browser and redirecting traffic to an alternate

website. Scammers capitalize on a popular hashtag and use click-throughs to boost

viewer statistics on a website, or encourage the purchase of a specific product or

service unrelated to the original hashtag. An example of this is an article that

circulated after a 2014 Sicilian earthquake to supposedly provide news, however, the

article was referencing a 1908 earthquake.

Outdated Information; Today’s media environment relies heavily on being first

with information. When crisis rumors start to surface, novice and experienced users

alike will scour the internet, often posting images of the initial returns from their

search without first verifying the date or accuracy of the data they are sharing. This
happens most often with users sharing photos from past disasters in a hurry as

evidence of a disaster, which is often believed as being true as the phrase “pictures or

it didn’t happen” have permeated social media users’ mindsets. Secondarily, older

articles describing a past incident can resurface when reposted, and publication dates

are changed automatically through re-posting.

5. Case Study

5.1. School Building Collapse in Lagos State (2019)

Around about 11am on Wednesday, a four-storeyed building containing residential


buildings, a nursery and primary school as well as a shop complex on the ground
floor, collapsed at Ita Faji on the Lagos Island, killing and trapping many people
inside.

The building, which was described by residents and rescue workers, as "very old"
and "marked for demolition since last year", came crashing after giving signs of
fatigue.

A middle-aged woman simply identified as Medinat, who spoke with Sahara


Reporters, said: "The government should come and demolish all these houses in
my neighbourhood; this one that collapsed, they marked it since last year but they
cleaned the mark by the government and continued staying there, even the
government never came back."

She added: "Do you know that even this morning; this house was shedding debris
before it..." She didn't finish, though; she was hushed from further speaking to us
by other women who restrained from "saying too much".
5.1.1 Social Media and Recent Building Collapse in Lagos state, Nigeria.

Following the recent building collapse in some part of Lagos, there has been a false

rumor which has gone viral on social media on the building collapse in Egerton

Lagos-Island. The Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) General

Manager, Engr. Lekan Shodeinde on Monday said that there was no fresh building

collapse in the State as being erroneously reported on the social media today.

The statement comes on the backdrop of a rumored collapse at Egerton Street,

Oke-Arin, Lagos Island. Shodeinde said that a three-floor structure was marked as

distressed and was undergoing demolition as at press time. He said the building in

question was within a built-up area flanked by other adjoining structures at the

rear, adding that the demolition of the distressed building became necessary in

order to avert another disaster.

According to him, the present administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

will leave no stone unturned to sanitize the building construction industry in the

State by removing all the distressed, illegal structures and buildings prone to

collapse as well as those that were not in conformity with the state Building Laws.
2. Bayelsa state flood incidence

In Nigeria, floods remain the most common and significant natural disaster, and

according to Onwuka, Ikekpeazu, and Onuoha (2015), floods constitute a major

environmental problem in Anambra state as more than 30% of the state’s

population reside in riverine areas with fishing and agriculture as their main

sources of livelihood.

Other parts of Nigeria have also been experiencing floods, and the first flood

recorded in Nigeria was at Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State in 1948, followed by

other serious floods. According to Etuonovbe (2011), an estimated 1,549 have lost

their lives to floods whereas more than a million have been displaced by flood

events in Nigeria since 1948. However, Nigeria experienced the worst flood in the

past 40 years in 2012, and it is estimated by the United Nations Office for the

Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA, 2012) that between July and

October 2012, about 7,705,378 people were affected by the flood, 2,157,419 were

registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs), 363 people reported dead, and

more than 618,000 houses damaged or destroyed in 33 out of 36 states in the

country. Subsequently, in the aftermath of the flood, Odidi (2012) reported that

“even the flood is worse than Boko Haram menace in Nigeria.”


The first prediction of the 2012 flood came at the beginning of the year.

Meteorologists at the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) warned Nigerians

to prepare for more rains, which would last until the third week of July as there

were indications of an “above normal rainfall in some parts of the country.” This

information was handed down to the populace through the mass media (radio,

television, and newspaper), informing them about the risks associated with the

flood.

The River Nun, a tributary of the River Niger, has overflown, causing massive
flooding in Tombia community in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

Residents of the community in Ekpetiama Kingdom were shocked to see their


homes and vast farmlands devastated by the floods.

Some of the residents in the area who narrated their ordeal to a News Agency of

Nigeria (NAN) correspondent said some houses, as well as farmlands and fishing

gear, have been destroyed by the disaster.

Evidence from studies in Nigeria indicates that people seem to have a negative

perception of media reportage of issues. For instance, Afolabi (2010) noted that the

mass media have not been timely in their reportage of conflicts and insurgencies.

Other researchers also show that the Nigerian media have not effectively played a

surveillance function in the reportage of conflicts and insurgencies, neither have


they displayed a high level of objectivity in their reports (Okpara, 2010; Oputa,

2011; Lawrence, 2011; Hamida & Baba, 2014).

2.1 Social Media and 2012 Flooding in Bayelsa

One positive contribute of the social media to the 2012 flooding in Nigeria

specifically in Bayelsa state was the case of SAYELBA. SAYELBA, a Facebook

platform in Bayelsa State, has concluded plans to donate relief materials to flood

victims in Bayelsa State.

The group, which comprises volunteers from the Niger Delta, took the decision

following an initiative by a broadcaster, Tari Joshua, to raise funds from fellow

SAYELBANS and ameliorate the suffering of fellow Bayelsans who have been

affected by the flood. Fortune God'sSon Alfred, SAYELBA's Principal

Administrator and Coordinator of the Group said the group had received a total of

N422, 000, four bags of garri, 55 bags of sachet water as well as two packs of

Vitamin A tablets from members of the public.