Facebook can help in disasters: academic

March 18, 2011
An Australian academic has praised the increasing use of social media during disasters, saying there had been a "beautiful display of humanity" on Facebook during recent catastrophes.

An Australian academic Friday praised the increasing use of social media during disasters, saying there had been a "beautiful display of humanity" on Facebook during recent catastrophes.

Communications expert Gwyneth Howell said she had been prompted to research the use of following last year's major earthquake in New Zealand's second city Christchurch -- which caused damage but no deaths.

The University of Western Sydney academic could not have known more disasters were to follow -- floods and cyclones in Queensland, bushfires in Western Australia, a deadlier quake in Christchurch and Japan's quake and tsunami.

Howell said that interviews with people who established sites to help victims of Queensland's devastating floods in January had demonstrated a "sense of real community" existed in the .

"That was the thing that struck me... this beautiful display of humanity and and a sense of 'I don't know you but I want to be able to help'," she told AFP.

"If that's what Facebook is providing and social media is providing people with in times of terrible anguish, I think it's a fantastic resource."

Howell said part of her ongoing research, which will examine how people use social media such as Facebook and during a time of crisis, will seek to discover how this medium can be deployed to even greater effect.

She said in the Queensland floods, during which Facebook sites offered news of people's whereabouts, help in reuniting pets with their owners and up-to-date information on flood zones, people used social media as an information source.

"They look at news media on television but they go to places like Facebook," Howell said.

Howell added that in the Queensland town of Toowoomba, which was hit with deadly flash floods in which many people were swept away, most people found out about the tragedy when friends changed their status on Facebook.

"That is where people learned about the disaster, they didn't learn it from mainstream media."

She said even as the situation in Japan, still reeling from last week's 9.0-magnitude quake and deadly tsunami, was unfolding, Facebook and Twitter were being used to make tribute pages and send messages of goodwill.

"That sense of community, I think, is outstanding, and it's what we need," she said.

Explore further: Facebook, Twitter and other social media are more used than e-mail, surveys suggest

Related Stories

Scared of social media? Read this

May 7, 2009

Almost every day we receive questions about how to use Twitter -- both from online readers and people we meet in real life. The questions have been picking up since practically every media outlet jumped on the Twitter Train ...

Recommended for you

Roboticists learn to teach robots from babies

December 1, 2015

Babies learn about the world by exploring how their bodies move in space, grabbing toys, pushing things off tables and by watching and imitating what adults are doing.

Xbox gaming technology may improve X-ray precision

December 1, 2015

With the aim of producing high-quality X-rays with minimal radiation exposure, particularly in children, researchers have developed a new approach to imaging patients. Surprisingly, the new technology isn't a high-tech, high-dollar ...

Making 3-D imaging 1,000 times better

December 1, 2015

MIT researchers have shown that by exploiting the polarization of light—the physical phenomenon behind polarized sunglasses and most 3-D movie systems—they can increase the resolution of conventional 3-D imaging devices ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.