Social Media and Disasters: Current Uses, Future Options, and Policy Considerations

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AUTHOR:
Congressional Research Service

SUMMARY:
The development of new technologies that have emerged since the mid-1990s has led to Internet based applications known as “social media” that enable people to interact and share information through media that were non-existent or widely unavailable 15 years ago. Examples of social media include blogs, chat rooms, discussion forums, wikis, YouTube Channels, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Social media can be accessed by computer, tablets, smart and cellular phones, and mobile phone text messaging (SMS).

In the last five years social media have played an increasing role in emergencies and disasters. 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. Facebook supports numerous emergency-related organizations, including Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM), The Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Project, as well as numerous universities with disaster-related programs.

The use of social media for emergencies and disasters may be conceptualized as two broad categories. First, social media can be used somewhat passively to disseminate information and receive user feedback via incoming messages, wall posts, and polls. To date, this is how most emergency management organizations, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), use social media.