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  • Writer's pictureStavros Papagianneas

How to use social media in crisis situations

social media , crisis communications

French and Belgian authorities are tracking down the terrorists suspected of organising attacks in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015. As any community that has experienced terrorism can declare, the fallout from such a traumatic experience can last for years. The consequences of the Paris attacks have impact also outside of France as the country is a EU member state and has boarders with Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Spain and Italy. Those could be: an increased sense of fear; fiscal impact by increased spending on security and defence; negative trends in economic growth and business.

The first information on the terrorist attacks in the French capital came via Twitter and Facebook. Social media played a crucial role by coordinating help in the crisis zone and communicating and spreading information . Social media reacted sometimes in fear, sometimes in hope, sometimes with pride and showed their support to the French people. Millions of messages were posted.

People that were looking for relatives and friends or had requests for information were helped by Twitter via the hashtag #RechercheParis. A Twitter spokesperson said that it was used more than a million times during the 24 hours after the attacks. The hashtag #PorteOuverre (open door) was used in the hours after the actions of terrorism to offer assistance and a place to stay to those that needed accommodation. #PrayforParis became a hashtag that has been posted for more than five million times. Twitter filled with warnings and video has become a critical source for those who were trying to protect their selves or their relatives and friends; but also a source of information for the press.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users to inform that they are safe. Safety Check tool determines the location by looking at the city that it is listed on a users profile, the last location. If a user is safe he or she can select “I am safe”. The Safety Check tool which was till now activated by Facebook only for natural disasters, was used for the very first time for more human disasters.

Last weekend in Brussels another step concerning the use of social media against terrorism was made. Belgian police requested citizens to avoid sharing information on anti-terrorism actions on social media. Although the debate about ethical censorship has already started, authorities’ request prompted an inventive response from Twitter users. The hasdag #Brusselslockdown began trending as the Belgian capital is still in lockdown: schools, universities, shopping centers and the metro are closed since last Saturday. However, the hashdag initiated a quite hilarious cat-storm on social media. People in Brussels responded with images of cats to the request of the police.

The message of the residents of Brussels was: we will use our humor and solidarity to tackle down terrorism. “Entire country of Belgium, fighting terror: using most terrifying weapon – sense of humor” wrote Twitter user @Ajit_Doval. “The very possible idea of angry confused terrorists scrolling through the #BrusselsLockdown hashtag is making me quite happy right now” @danroberts11 noticed. “Congrats Belgium. You have won the internet tonight” @oogiesshock observed. And as the movement grew online, Belgian authorities tweeted their gratitude that everyone respected their wishes @crisiscenterBE

In a world of increasing interconnectedness social media continues to evolve and play a larger role in everyday life and in communications following crisis. People turn to social media in times of crisis and real-time communication will intensify in the future.

See here some ways for dealing with crisis situations like terrorism and disasters on the social media:

Response is vital

Studies show that people expect a response on social media. Interacting and engaging is the action. If someone needs help and support, the community takes action quickly.

Avoid clichés

Every crisis and disaster is different and initiates its own complex web of fast-paced information exchange. Take the time to find out more about the situation.

Be specific

Do not post content that looks excessively speculative. Add date and time on your posts if there are time sensitive and always ensure that what you post is recent and accurate.

Hashtags enable those searching for specific information to easily find and compare what is available and, take part in the conversation.

Check what you are re-posting

Be careful with re-posting content of other organisations or individuals, especially with minute-by-minute developments. In case you make a mistake, it could go viral.

Re-post credible information

Referring to other authorities and sharing resources and tools, especially official ones, is good. For example, the Red Cross uses social media in some countries to empower the public to either seek or give help during a disaster.

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