Manila – Police evacuate an elderly couple from a flooded section of suburban Pasig city east of Manila on 28 September 2009 © Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
I’ve followed the debates over Gladwell’s cockeyed and inaccurate view of of social media with interest. In my day job as a campaigner on humanitarian issues I’ve come across many examples of the use of Ushahidi both as a tool to raise the profile of forgotten conflicts and also a tool to help organise humanitarian response. But so far the evidence on how social networks can work as an early warning mechanism has been a bit patchy.
However the UN’s IRIN News service reports that in the run up to Typhoon Megi in the Philippines the Red Cross used Twitter, Facebook and text messaging to promote awareness of the impending landfall and threat of the typhoon:
Aid officials in the Philippines have credited social media sites like Facebook and Twitter with keeping the number of deaths caused by Typhoon Megi to only 10 so far. Thousands of people were persuaded to move to safer places or take precautionary measures before Megi struck on 18 October, officials say.
“The value of the alerts to us was that we managed to send out the message early,” Alexander Rosete, a spokesman for the Philippines National Red Cross, told IRIN. “Now that we are using the Internet, the services are free of charge, and we send messages at no cost to us. It’s also more reliable and faster because nearly everyone’s on social networking sites.”
(Original report on IRIN)
The Philippines has extremely high levels of text messaging and people using social networks so this may have been an example of using the right tools in the right context. But it does demonstrate the power providing early warning to people who are connected. The revolution may or may not be tweeted, but it seems that Twitter, Facebook and SMS can in fact save lives. Could someone let Gladwell know? Thanks.
Do you have any other examples of where social networking and mobile technology have been useful tools for saving lives?