Social media in emergency situations

What do we share and where do we look for information?

Social media has without doubt changed the way we act and communicate. The last decade has brought us multiple ways of sharing information, thoughts and experiences in words, pictures and films. The popular saying "Pics or it didn't happen" encourage us to document every story, but are there still things that we do not share?

i am dying

Credit: Alexander Sherbakov/AP/NTB Scanpix

"I am dying"
Olesya Zhukovskaya (@OlesyaZhukovska) on Twitter, February 20th, 2014

Norwegian Hull Club has over the latter years invested in a range of online tools that can be of help to our clients in emergency situations. Amongst AIS services, weather warnings, various maps and satellites, we have also acknowledged social media as a valuable information source in emergencies and have taken out subscriptions for services that allow us to monitor the various new media channels when needed. So far this has given us valuable sources, overview and pictures at an early stage in emergencies; information that sometimes has helped our clients in making better decisions for the further rescue process. 

Do we tweet in an accident?

But what do we know about people's use of social media in dramatic situations? Is it the involved crew members that share information on Facebook or YouTube or is it the crew of a nearby ship? What about the passengers? We have seen examples of all three. More than a decade after we started using social media, there are nevertheless hardly any studies that looks into how our entrance into this world of liking, sharing and snooping around in each other’s' lives has affected the use of the same channels in the more difficult situations of our lives.

Studies and observations

In our searches we have however found that the American Red Cross and the Canadian Red Cross have carried out surveys on this exact topic in 2010 to 2012. This has inspired us to further look into the material to see if the results have changed over time or if the results may vary from one country to the other. Statistics shows that Norwegians are amongst the most active social media users in the world. Does this mean that Norwegians would have the tendency to rush to social media if involved in an accident? What then about the Filipinos? 

Social media have played an important role in the "Arab spring" and Twitter has been actively used in order to spread and share information about the riots both in Ukraine and Syria. Olesya Zhukovskaya, a volunteer nurse that was treating injured protestors at Maidan Square in Kiev this winter, became world-famous for her tweet "I'm dying”, which she posted after having been shot in the neck by a sniper. Her tweet was retweeted 6498 times and a picture of her being brought to safety was in every media the following hours. Luckily she got the necessary medical assistance and survived.

Participate in a new study

Even though few postings get the same attention as Zhukovskaya’s, the use of social media in crisis situations is not unique. As part of our master’s thesis in digital communications management, a fellow student and I have decided to look further into the studies from Canada and the USA and to carry out a similar survey in 2014. We hereby invite and encourage you to help us increase the survey’s validity by filling out this questionnaire and to share it within your company, organisation and social networks. It is estimated to take 4-5 minutes.

Thank you very much for helping, we will be sharing interesting finds this summer.

Link to the questionnaire:

8. Apr. 2014