Twitter and social media use in New Zealand earthquake disaster

Social media seems to have more and more of a part to play at times of crisis as it’s an easy way to spread the word about what’s happening with a situation and giving out information when the usual options have been made difficult. We’ve heard before of its use after an earthquake and also recently for the wildfire that swept across Boulder, Colorado, when people used Twitter extensively.

Now it seems that Twitter came into its own for the recent major earthquake that struck New Zealand last week in Christchurch. It’s an interesting development in the modern world that people in times of trouble are turning to social media to help them out and once again this has been proven as a Nielsen survey said that in the six days following the earthquake over 27,000 messages were posted about it using social media sites such as Twitter and Trade Me, according to Ian McCollister over on the International Business Times.

It was Twitter that was used the most though receiving the highest number of posts from the public. Residents surrounding the earthquake area also used media sites such as YouTube, Flickr and Vimeo to distribute photos and video of the events that unfolded. Tony Boyte, Nielsen’s research director, explained the public use of social media in times of crisis by saying, “The dramatic numbers in social media usage demonstrates the platform’s ability to quickly collect and disseminate information. With one quick tweet you can reassure loved-ones that you’re OK.”

For more on this go to ibtimes.com. Although social media sometimes has the odd negative story surrounding it, it’s good to see some publicity about just how helpful it can be in times of an emergency. Have you ever turned to sites such as Twitter or Facebook in a crisis? We’d be interested to hear any experiences of how social media helped you when you needed it so please do send in your comments.

  • Karen E. Lund

    I live in New York City and have never been to New Zealand, but on September 1 (and a little bit of August 31) I participated in a day-long, world wide Twitter event for Ask A Curator Day. As a result, I started following a few museums in New Zealand, including the Christchurch Art Gallery.

    A few days later I learned about the earthquake via Twitter. The Christchurch Art Gallery's building became a Civil Defense headquarters and they posted photos of emergency workers in their lobby–with links from Twitter, of course. As an American Red Cross volunteer I thought that was the coolest disaster HQ I'd ever seen–and was impressed that their glass curtain walls survived the quake with nary a crack.

    I tweeted a hello to Christchurch with a retweet of the photo link and then, jokingly, tweeted the American Red Cross Greater New York chapter (where I volunteer) asking why they don't have similar agreements with some of the museums here and including the link to one of Christchurch's photos. The next day the GNY chapter tweeted me back asking for more information about the photo, so I sent them the URL for Christchurch Art Gallery's website and as much explanation as 140 characters permit.

    How many times did those bits circle the globe? Because I worked in a museum years ago and am a Red Cross volunteer now–and had joined Twitter in early August, immediately connecting with both the American Red Cross and an art gallery in New Zealand! And how many little connections like that happen all the time? There's nothing special about me; that's just one story about how the Internet can melt distance, even during an emergency.