The crucial role of the Internet and social media


In times of calamities, social media has once again played a crucial role in disseminating vital information. And there’s no time as vital as last week when super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated many parts of Visayas, and communications on both ends failed. People outside the typhoon-hit areas simply scrambled for whatever information they could get on social networks.

Forget the bickering between TV journalists Korina Sanchez and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, which hugged a bit of comedrama online, that’s nothing compared to what social media did as a whole—again, going beyond its normal role distributing the often mundane status shoutouts and selfish selfies of many—this time providing loads of information one can’t get from normal channels.

As far as I know, the first time social media played this massive role of information dissemination in the Philippines was when Ondoy struck the metro back in 2009. Both Facebook and Twitter became the lifeline for many users. From then on, social media became a big part of many peopleís lives. Filipino lives.

As the country reels from one natural disaster after another, netizens, who were lucky enough to have electricity power in the aftermath, wasted no time to bring social media in the forefront as part of the relief effort for survivors, particularly in storm-ravaged areas in central Philippines.

For example on Twitter, users agreed on standard hashtags to coordinate updates, rescue, and relief efforts on the effects of the typhoon, which could also streamline coordination process online, helping push for a quick relief and recovery effort. In a statement provided to us in media, Twitter shared the reference of the standard hashtags to be used as follow: #ReliefPH (Rescue Coordination), #RescuePH (Urgent Rescue Needed), #SafeNow (Resolves#RescuePH), #FloodPH (Damage Reporting), #TracingPH (Report Missing People), #YolandaPH (Media storm coverage).

For the hashtags to be effective, Twitter users are reminded to “refrain from using the above hashtags outside of it’s supposed function,” to be able to send and receive messages and announcements clearly.

As for Facebook, aside from the usual praises and criticism the Aquino government is getting from the social network’s subscribers—and mind you, there’s a lot of the latter—the social media giant has started putting a donate button on the usersí news feed.

The “Donate P200.00” button started appearing on the Facebook page on Thursday, November 14, and once you click it, it will allow the user to donate money directly to the Red Cross Red Crescent organization.

The amount of P200.00 or roughly $4.50 will be automatically debited from the users credit card or PayPal account if they have one. If not they could go directly to Red Cross Red Crescent website for other payment options or if they want to donate more than the amount specified on the button.

Also, I just want to mention the GOOGLE PERSON FINDER, which I first encountered during Ondoy, and turned out to be an effective option when looking for missing people.

Google dedicated a Person Finder website solely for victims and survivors of typhoon Yolanda. As of this writing, there are over 90,000 entries already recorded.

On the website, users can search for persons they are looking for and at the same time, people in the affected areas, once they have access, can provide information about their whereabouts or current situations of other people.

The said page is also available for mobile phones. Simply send an SMS/text message to: 2662999 for Globe subscribers; 4664999 for SMART subscribers; 22020999 for Sun Cellular subscribers; or +16508003977 with the message Search person-name. For example, if you are searching for Joshua, send the message Search Joshua on your mobile device.

However, Google reminds people that “all data entered [on the website]is available to the public and usable by anyone.” Adding that “Google does not review or verify the accuracy of [the]data.” So, it’s not 100 percent proof. Nonetheless, it’s another alternative option that can easily be accessed online.

The power of technology, social media, and the Internet—all at our disposal. Use them wisely.


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