“The magic of new technology can make the invisible, visible,” said Paul Conneally in his TedTalk on “digital humanitarianism.” Social media can crowd source data and replace traditional media updates when disasters strike. Two examples show social media’s role in handling dramatic natural disasters:
Haiti, 2010: A deadly earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, and affected an estimated three million people. The collapse of traditional media made social media the principal communications tool: everyone was a journalist. People used Twitter to locate their loved ones just seconds after the earthquake, while platforms such as Ushahidi were used to crowd source information via SMS, specifying the level of damage and connecting the data to an interactive map.
The Philippines, 2013: Haiyan, the powerful typhoon (unofficially the fourth strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed) killed at least 5,700 people last month. Again, a mapping tool was used to crowd source the enormous amount of information that poured in, connecting tweets and SMSs to a map so that aid workers could see exactly where and what help people needed. Patrick Meier, a professional crisis mapper, explained to National Geographic that the dynamic maps, updated in real time, are like having your own helicopter, providing a bird’s-eye-view as events unfold. “Gaining information like this straight from crisis zones is a game changer; these technologies didn’t exist just a few years ago,” Meier said.
In the future: It is predicted that we will see more frequent radical weather and natural disasters in the future and at the same time, the number of people who own mobile phones will increase drastically. That is how the magic of new technology can make the invisible, visible.