Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vital sources of information during crisis

The Nation November 1, 2011 9:09 am
Vital sources of information during crisis

Social media proves its worth in a time of need

Social media has proved its power in a time of crisis once again. Outlets such as Facebook and Twitter not only spread news and information about the flood quickly, they also helped educate people.

More importantly, they helped people coordinate rescues and evacuations, as well as push for inquiries and changes in work being done by the authorities.

Both before and after moving of the government's Flood Relief Operations Centre office from Don Mueang Airport on Saturday, social media users - including journalists and flood relief volunteers working at the centre - posted videos, pictures and comments that questioned the management of supplies by FROC officials.

Recently, pictures of how evacuees and donated supplies were left at the inundated Don Mueang Airport, instead of being moved to FROC's new office at the Energy Complex Building, spread like wildfire on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites.

Mainstream media outlets like Channel 7 finally broadcast the video clip.

Despite FROC's explanation that the evacuees refused to move from the shelter in their area, social media users did not stop digging as officials were unable to clarify differences in what they said to the people and evidence that kept turning up, especially about relief supplies.

Earlier, Poramate Minsiri, aka @iWhale on Twitter, who is the leader of a major volunteer network ThaiFlood, quit working with the FROC but the network did not stop helping people.

Like other volunteer groups such as Rawangpai, SiamArsa or singer Jetrin Wattanasin, supply, workers, funds and help could still be raised and publicised thanks to social media including the @Thaiflood account.

The government and Bangkok governor also use social media to spread news.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wrote on Facebook many times while Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra's team relayed his messages through @bangkokgovernor Twitter account. But those were mainly one-way communication.

When conflicting information was released by the FROC and Bangkok city officials, people were promptly alerted to this via Twitter, which allowed others to discuss the situation in "real-time". People were able to warn others about areas that were unreachable or suggest routes they could use.

In general, Thais can search |for #ThaiFlood while foreigners can use #ThaiFloodEng to get updated information.

Facebook page "Nam Kheun Hai Reeb Bok" (Inform quickly when the water comes) - www.facebook.com/room2680 - gathers flood situation updates from people. That idea has even led to the sharing of updates by specific groups. An example is www.facebook.com/ MuslimThaiFlood.

Residents in Samut Prakan, the coastal province where water drains to the sea, have shared updates and pictures via @b8tv Twitter account.

Social media also played a superb part in coordinating people in rescues and evacuations.

While official telephone hotlines at 1111 were too busy, the government information centre was able to take requests for help via its @GCC_1111 Twitter account and www.facebook.com/GCC1111 Facebook page. Those details were then given to related agencies and helped inform people about the progress of assistance efforts also.

Roo Su Flood (Fighting Flood with Knowledge) has also been a big hit. This YouTube animation became popular virtually overnight. In less than a week, the first episode, which seeks to educate people about how the flood happened, got over 700,000 views while the Facebook page attracted over 75,000 fans.

With English subtitles also |provided on its videos, viewers can understand how 10 billion cubic metres of flood water threatened to swamp the Thai capital.

To help children grasp the situation, it said this was like 50 million blue whales from the North wanting to get home - to the sea - but the traffic was very bad so they had to stay on the roads and people's houses.

Roo Su Flood's fourth episode, telling people how to prepare and deal with the flood, got more than 80,000 views in just a few days.

Narong Khamwijit, head of Chulalongkorn University's Journalism department, said people who were dissatisfied with the government's work had turned to non-government groups, largely through social media.

"Social media is not only a platform for using technology but also sharing useful information with targets at the right time. People who get information from Facebook and Twitter can pass it to others close to them and play constructive roles for civic networks," he said.

"The FROC and many mainstream media have made people panic, while social media tells them what to expect and what to do, as well as what kind of supplies are needed right now. Social media has allowed the publication of pictures and evidence, so quarrelling with bias will fade away," he said.
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