Who you gonna call? A social media wake up
THE RISE AND RISE
In the first week of January 2011, the Facebook page of the Queensland Police Service was ‘liked’ by 6400 people. By the second week of January, with flood waters threatening, that number had risen to more than 160 000. On top of this, Twitter followers of the QPS increased ten-fold during the same period. In times of disaster, Queenslanders—and citizens the world over—are not only using, but relying on social media.
At a recent symposium on social media, QUT Associate Professor Axel Bruns argued that demand will increase for emergency services and government bodies to communicate with people via social media. Calling the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi a “wake up call”, Professor Bruns said these natural disasters have been “a clear pointer to the value of social media during crises and how we should use it for future events”.
The media data from January’s floods, in particular, highlights something new about who we trust, how we get our news and how quickly we want it. Professor Bruns pointed out that people during the floods—many of whom were without electricity—used the Queensland Police Service tweets as their top source of information. Bruns believes this engagement with the public helped reduce fear.
AND ANOTHER THING ABOUT FEAR
Late on Sunday night in Washington DC, Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff Keith Urbahn tweeted something he had heard: that Osama Bin Laden had been killed (“Hot damn”, he declared.) Smelling a Twitter hoax, one of many thousands of sceptics asked, “Hasn’t Bin Laden died every year since 9/11?”
But the White House eventually confirmed the story after millions had already heard it, re-tweeted it or posted the news as their status on Facebook. A decade on from 11th September 2001 and it begs the question: how differently would this information have been disseminated ten years ago? Even five years ago?
Two hours after that initial tweet from Rumsfeld’s office, President Obama delivered a speech to the nation. Americans were beckoned by their friends on mobiles and social networks (one New Yorker was overheard on her phone: “You’ve got to come down here!”) And the people who were gathered at Times Square, Ground Zero and the gates of the White House “celebrated” as Obama told them what they already knew.