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Social media and disaster management


Social media and public health is a diverse field, and there is always some new corner to explore! These days I am increasing my knowledge on the use of social media for disaster management and coordination. The reason for this is that I next week will be giving a lecture on the topic to students at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen.

It has been exiting to dig into a new field and to experience how social media really presents great new opportunities, but of course also new challenges. Since I haven’t previously worked specifically with disaster management, I choose a few weeks ago to ask my Twitter followers for help on finding good literature and resource people in the field. And once again, Twitter didn’t let me down.Tweet

Blogs, website and hashtags

I got a lot of great inputs to blogs, websites, Twitter chats, hashtags and people to follow and hook up with on Twitter (a big thank you to all of you who responded!).

The blogs are a good starting point, especially since most of them offer great links to other resources. The most helpful so far have been the website/blog Social Media 4 Emergency Management. From here there is access to wikis, archives of Twitter chats (#smemchat), videos, blogs etc. on social media and emergency management. The only ‘problem’ with the website is that there is almost too much information.

Another super helpful resource is the blog idisaster2.0 (primarily run by @kim26stephens). It have lots of informative blog posts as well as a good bibliography of selected academic and government resources on social media and emergency management.

Own experiences with disasters and social media?

When I was asked to give the lecture, I hesitated for a moment, because what did I know about emergencies and disasters? Apart from my solid knowledge of social media in public health, including some superficial insight into its role in disasters, I had never had anything to do with disasters or least of all experienced it… However, the later is not true, I quickly realised. I have actually to some extend been in an emergency setting and I have in fact experienced the role of social media in a disaster situation.

Earthquake in Japan in 2011

japan earthquake

I was in Japan, when the big earthquake, subsequent tsunami and finally the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis occurred in March 2011. Being relatively far from the epicenter of the disaster (I was based in Kobe in the Kansai region), I wasn’t directly surrounded by flooded buildings, elevated radiation risks or other immediate danger. But I was surrounded by potential danger, by worried friends and family in Denmark and by Japanese friends and colleagues with close relatives in the affected areas.

helpjapannowLooking back on my Facebook timeline, I can now see how social media actually played an important role for me during the emergency. I used Facebook to assure others that I was okay and kept them updated on my situation. I started following the Danish Embassy in Japan’s Facebook page through which they several times daily shared information about risks, advice on how to act and the organisation of potential evacuation. I encourage the mobilization of emotionally and financial support to Japan by sharing links and QR-codes. And I experienced how a Japanese colleague of mine after days of no contact with her sister living in Sendai where the tsunami hit, finally through Facebook got in contact and found out that her and her were safe…

So yes, I have actually experienced a disaster, and experienced how social media can be used in this kind of situation. I plan to share my experiences as a case with the students next week and hope that this real life experience can contribute to the understanding and some discussions.

Your help

Although I already got great tips from people on Twitter, I am still the happy receiver of inputs on social media and emergencies/disaster management. Suggestions on discussion topics, assignments or any other ideas on how to involve the students are more than welcome as are links to guidelines, scientific articles etc.


Exactly What Role Did Social Media Play in the Egyptian Revolution?


The January 25th revolution in Egypt was an incredible achievement by its people and a truly inspiring example of the power of peaceful protest. Yet the work towards an effective transition to democratic government within Egypt has just begun. Meanwhile a debate continues to rage in the blogosphere as to the exact role played by social media.

While commentators such as Brian Solis and myself have argued against the off-hand dismissal of social media by Malcolm Gladwell,Evgeny Morozov and Will HeavenJeff Jarvisand Jay Rosen made the sobering point that it’s silly to argue the issue in absolutist terms. Rosen argues “Factors are not causes,” and insists that social media was neither fully responsible for the revolution in Egypt nor irrelevant, and that social transformation is far more complex involving a high degree of mystery.

With sobriety and complexity in mind, I want to take a closer look at the specific role that social media played in terms of scaling awareness and support among anti-government protesters that ultimately resulted in the resignation of President Mubarak.

The role of social media is critical because it helps to spread cognitive dissonance by connecting thought leaders and activists to ordinary citizens rapidly expanding the network of people who become willing to take action. Brian Solis describes this process as creating the necessary “density” of connections, writing “If unity is the effect, density is the cause.”Similarly, Stowe Boyd writes:

“Ideas spread more rapidly in densely connected social networks. So tools that increase the density of social connection are instrumental to the changes that spread. […] And, more importantly, increased density of information flow (the number of times that people hear things) and of the emotional density (as individuals experience others’ perceptions about events, or ‘social contextualization’) leads to an increased likelihood of radicalization: when people decide to join the revolution instead of watching it.”

So how was such density achieved in Egypt and what impact will it have beyond its borders? Let’s consider this question in three dimensions — vertically, horizontally and in the compounding effect social media generates from one country to another.

i) Vertical Threshold: Compared to United States and Europe, social media has little penetration in the Arab world. In fact, there are only 21 million Facebook users across the Arab world. So how did social media play such a significant role in fueling a popular revolution? Let me explain by way of an example.

As many commentators have noted, one of the early catalysts for the January 25th revolution in Egypt was a Facebook page created in honor of Khaled Said, a young man who had been brutally beaten and killed by the police. This page became a focal point around which 470,000 “fans” organized their dissidence while aYouTube video about his murder was viewed by more than 500,000 people fueling further public outrage.

Inspired by the protests against and the eventual overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011, the Khaled Said Facebook page then became a focal point for the dissemination of popular protest throughout Egypt. As such, the limited penetration of social media within the country was overcome by the fact that it first scaled vertically through key Facebook sites such as those of Khaled Said, 15-year old Asmaa Mahfouz and later, Google executive Wael Ghonim.

ii) Horizontal Expansion: Buoyed by the success of Tunisian protesters and emboldened by the courage of young protesters on their own streets, social media also helped expand the ranks of Egyptians in Tahrir Square from young, well-educated students to doctorslawyersjudges,Christians,women and finally State TV personnel.

Such alignment around shared values counteracted attempts by President Mubarak to divide local and foreign support for the protestors. Tweets, Facebook posts and You Tube videos flooded the Internet also serving as critical, transparent content for the dominant Egyptian media outlets such as television including Al Jazeera English (AJE).

iii) Compounding Effect: From Tunisia to Egypt to Syria to Iran to Algeria andChina, social media is also playing a pivotal role in scaling connections between people, in achieving density, in disseminating courage and in countering misinformation generated by oppressive regimes in many countries around the world.

The most powerful consequence of this revolutionary tide is to challenge the false separation between a country’s ideals and its interests. By allowing citizens from all professions to align around shared values for the sake of their country’s future, they are challenging the monopolies of power that have impoverished the lives of millions allowing them to re-assert their core belief that government officials are democratically elected to serve the interests of the people.

Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, observed thousands of Egyptians volunteering to clean up Tahrir Square in the last 48 hours and wrote about the experiencequoting the aphorism that “in the history of the world no one has ever washed a rented car.” As he concluded, Egyptians are now re-taking ownership of their national identity, pride and country after thirty years of an oppressive regime.

Just as Egypt followed Tunisia, citizens of other Arab counties are rising to the challenge of shaping their own futures in the face of political and military might. Social media did not make this happen single-handedly, but by enabling people to connect more rapidly around shared values, it is shifting power back to the people and allowing them to re-align the interests of a country around the values that serve all its people.

This phenomenon and the contributory role played by social media are a powerful demonstration of what I call aWe First (as opposed to Me First) thinking and behavior. This mindset involves a fundamental recognition that communities, companies and countries must now embrace and demonstrate an expanded definition of self-interest that includes the greater good. To do otherwise not only threatens their own survival, but invites a revolution led by those united by shared values and connected by social technology.

Spring Awakening

How an Egyptian Revolution Began on Facebook


Published: February 17, 2012

In the embryonic, ever evolving era of social media — when milestones come by the day, if not by the second — June 8, 2010, has secured a rightful place in history. That was the day Wael Ghonim, a 29-year-old Google marketing executive, was browsing Facebook in his home in Dubai and found a startling image: a photo­graph of a bloodied and disfigured face, its jaw broken, a young life taken away. That life, he soon learned, had belonged to Khaled Mohamed Said, a 28-year-old from Alexandria who had been beaten to death by the Egyptian police.

Sam Christmas

Wael Ghonim.


The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir

By Wael Ghonim 308 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $26.

At once angered and animated, the Egyptian-­born Ghonim went online and created a Facebook page. “Today they killed Khaled,” he wrote. “If I don’t act for his sake, tomorrow they will kill me.” It took a few moments for Ghonim to settle on a name for the page, one that would fit the character of an increasingly personalized and politically galvanizing Internet. He finally decided on “Kullena Khaled Said” — “We Are All Khaled Said.”

“Khaled Said was a young man just like me, and what happened to him could have happened to me,” Ghonim writes in “Revolution 2.0,” his fast-paced and engrossing new memoir of political awakening. “All young Egyptians had long been oppressed, enjoying no rights in our own homeland.”

Ghonim’s memoir is a welcome and cleareyed addition to a growing list of volumes that have aimed (but often failed) to meaningfully analyze social media’s impact. It’s a book about social media for people who don’t think they care about social media. It will also serve as a touchstone for future testimonials about a strengthening borderless digital movement that is set to continually disrupt powerful institutions, be they corporate enterprises or political regimes.

An accidental activist, Ghonim tapped into a shared frustration that became immediately evident online. Two minutes after he started his Facebook page, 300 people had joined it. Three months later, that number had grown to more than 250,000. What bubbled up online inevitably spilled onto the streets, starting with a series of “Silent Stands” that culminated in a massive and historic rally at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. “We Are All Khaled Said” helped ignite an uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the dissolution of the ruling National Democratic Party. In turn, Ghonim — who was arrested during the height of the protests — reluctantly became one of the leading voices of the Arab Spring.

Ghonim’s writing voice is spare and measured, and marked by the same earnest humility he has displayed in media appearances. During the interview he gave on Egyptian television after his release from detention, when he broke down crying as a photo montage of young Egyptians killed in the protests played across the screen, he was quick to point out that “the real heroes” of the revolution were those who had been martyred. He resists being labeled an icon. He insists he represents just one story and says his online activism should be seen only in the context of “hundreds of other pages, Facebook accounts and Twitter profiles” dedicated to covering and organizing the Arab Spring.

And he’s right. But his individual story resonates on two levels: it epitomizes the coming-of-age of a young Middle Eastern generation that has grown up in the digital era, as well as the transformation of an apolitical man from comfortable executive to prominent activist.

The Middle East is home to roughly 100 million people ages 15 to 29. Many are educated but unemployed. Though only a fraction of Egyptians have Internet access, Ghonim writes, the number of Web users in the country increased to 13.6 million in 2008 from 1.5 million in 2004. Through blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the Web has become a haven for a young, educated class yearning to express its worries and anxieties.

Technology, of course, is not a panacea. Facebook does not a revolution make. In Egypt’s case, it was simply a place for venting the outrage resulting from years of repression, economic instability and individual frustration. Ghonim writes that in 2011, out of Egypt’s more than 80 million people, some 48 million were poor and 2.5 million lived in extreme poverty. “More than three million young Egyptians are unemployed,” he says.

A father of two, Ghonim comes from a relatively prosperous family. Though he places himself in “a small, privileged slice” of Egypt’s population, he once shared his countrymen’s indifference to politics. “Most of us shied away,” he writes, “believing that we could not do anything to change the status quo.” Connecting online with other young, educated Egyptians changed his mind.

The Internet, Ghonim says, was “instrumental in shaping my experiences as well as my character.” Like many who grew up with instant messaging, online video games and the here-comes-everybody ethos of sites like Wikipedia, he refers to himself as a “real-life introvert yet an Internet extrovert.” He met his wife, Ilka, an American Muslim, online.

Ghonim drew on his considerable skill and knowledge as an online marketer while running the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page. Early on, he decided that creating the page, as opposed to a Facebook group, would be a better way to spread information. More important, he knew that maintaining an informal, authentic tone was crucial to amassing allies. People had to see themselves in the page. “Using the pronoun I was critical to establishing the fact that the page was not managed by an organization, political party or movement of any kind,” he writes. “On the contrary, the writer was an ordinary Egyptian devastated by the brutality inflicted on Khaled Said and motivated to seek justice.”

He polled the page’s users and sought ideas from others, like how best to publicize a rally — through printed fliers and mass text messaging, it turned out. (“Reaching working-class Egyptians was not going to happen through the Internet and Facebook,” he notes.) He tried to be as inclusive as possible, as when he changed the name of the page’s biggest scheduled rally from “Celebrating Egyptian Police Day — January 25” to “January 25: Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.” “We needed to have everyone join forces: workers, human rights activists, government employees and others who had grown tired of the regime’s policies,” he writes. “If the invitation to take to the streets had been based solely on human rights, then only a certain segment of Egyptian society would have participated.”

As the youth-led Tunisian upheaval further inspired young activists in Egypt, Ghonim was arrested by the secret police. For nearly two weeks, he was held blindfolded and handcuffed, deprived of sleep and subjected to repeated interrogations, as his friends, family and colleagues at Google tried to discover his whereabouts. That he was released as quickly as he was demonstrated the power of Revolution 2.0.

A year after Mubarak’s ouster, it remains to be seen exactly how and when — or whether — Egypt will transition to a better democracy. What Ghonim’s book makes clear, however, is that revolution begins with the self: with what one is willing to stand for online and offline, and what one citizen is willing to risk in the service of his country.


Jose Antonio Vargas has written for The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and The New Yorker. He is the founder of Define American, a multimedia campaign for immigration reform.

Benefits of blogging for business

Reaching new customers

Using a blog as a key element of an online marketing and promotion initiative gives you a chance to reach new customers, and to present a new business face to your existing customers.

The interconnected nature of social media, where a single customer can share an experience with their own network, presents opportunities to reach many more people. Also, the dynamic nature of a blog, which is always being refreshed and updated, helps achieve higher internet search result rankings, which in turn attracts new customers.

Developing brand or ‘personality’

The personal nature of blogging, and the ability to generate online conversations and interactions, allows a business to develop and project a personality, or specific traits, such as being innovative, or focused on customer service.

Such characteristics, however, need to be defined and managed through clear planning to ensure consistency over time.

Gathering feedback, reviews and testimonials

Blogs and reader comments are a key source of information for your business and for other readers and customers.

Reader comments, and particularly customer comments, provide detailed and immediate feedback on your business activities, products and services.

Positive feedback gives confidence to other potential customers, while negative feedback gives you the chance to respond to concerns, defend your product/services or improve your business processes.

Responding to and managing complaints

Be prepared for complaints and negative comments, and don’t react negatively to genuine feedback. The way in which you respond to criticism, especially in conversation initiated by your blog, will have a significant impact on the way you are perceived by your followers and online community.

Complaints and negative feedback may present invaluable opportunities to improve service and products in a manner which wins new supporters and customer loyalty.

How a business blog works

A business blog is often an extension of a business website. A good blog is a series of regular updates that encourage people to come back and read the latest content.

Blogs consist of content that is continually updated in a diary format. They can be quite diverse, ranging from written updates to video diaries. Blogs often incorporate photographs, art, videos, music and audio.

A defining characteristic of modern blogs is that content is easy to upload and publish using a blogging service. This has made web publishing accessible to almost everyone.

Blog posts

The term ‘blog post’ refers to the content that makes up the blog. Usually the most recent post is displayed first, with older posts beneath it.


One of the most effective uses of a blog is providing an interactive experience for its readers. Allowing readers to leave comments on your blog posts creates an online conversation which can help businesses get valuable feedback about their products and services.

As a blog author you can respond to comments and may be required to manage (moderate) these online exchanges.


The dashboard is a common part of the blog accessible only to the blog authors, usually via a login.

The dashboard often provides access to administrative tasks such as changing the look of the blog design, managing posts, reviewing and moderating comments from readers, and creating and editing new posts using a built-in post editor.

Tags and categories

Each blog post can be organised via categories and tagged keywords that help to readers find posts that interest them.


A busy blog, such as one that is updated daily, will quickly build up a lot of entries. These entries are organised into archives which readers can browse by clicking on a particular month, year or date range.
Storage and back-up of blog entries should be part of regular online and information technology backup procedures.

Benefits of YouTube for business

YouTube has a range of uses and benefits for business that can complement those offered by other communication channels.

Demonstrating products

YouTube lets businesses show their products in action. This is particularly useful for companies with limited physical distribution channels, including those who mostly sell over the internet. Businesses that use YouTube to allow customers to see their products in action before they buy include toy manufacturers, theme parks and theatre companies.

Creating community

Businesses that have a following or are part of a community can use YouTube as a tool to share and engage with customers. Examples include specialty bicycle retailers and running shops that share produce launches, event footage, video blogs and customer footage via video.

Demonstrating expertise

Some business people use YouTube to build their reputation as an expert in a field. This might include uploading video tutorials or short video tips, as well as linking to other experts’ videos that relate to their area of interest.

Saving bandwidth

YouTube lets you embed video content in your website without increasing your site’s bandwidth. This means you can include video in your website without slowing down your customers’ download speeds.

Showing your brand’s ‘personality’

YouTube is a chance to add colour and movement to your business image. For example, a coffee supplier can not only post footage of coffee tasting events and video tutorials, they can also share video footage from the point of origin of the beans and interviews with the people who choose the varieties they use.

Leveraging events or promotions

YouTube gives you the ability to revisit successful events by showing video footage of them to people who weren’t there or who want to recall what happened.

If you run an event (such as an author talk in a bookshop or a seminar for a consulting firm) you can share the highlights via YouTube, as long as you have permission from the ‘talent’.

Solving customers’ problems

Some businesses use YouTube to provide solutions for their customers. For example, they post videos demonstrating how to install their product, or ‘screen capture’ tutorials showing how to use their software.

A video can be a great way to address a frequently asked question or help troubleshoot common problems with your product. It is better to be proactive about this by acknowledging an issue and showing customers how to deal with it, rather than letting the market do it for you and criticise your product in the process.

You can also use YouTube to offer solutions to people who don’t even know about your product yet. Every day, people post questions into search engines asking how to solve their problems, like ‘my pink socks ran in the wash. What can I do?’ If your product solves a problem like this, posting a video on YouTube demonstrating it in action is a great way to bring your product to the attention of the people who need it.

Who uses YouTube?

There are more than 7 million unique YouTube accounts in Australia. In March 2012, 10 million Australians visited YouTube according to Google statistics. While YouTube use is dominated by people between 18 and 40, people of all ages participate.

Businesses that use YouTube

YouTube use by Australian business is still very small compared with other social media like Facebook and Twitter. About 25% of Australian large businesses reported using YouTube as a business tool in 2012, but only about 1% of small and medium businesses did, according to the Yellow Social Media Report.

Businesses that can benefit from using YouTube are likely to:

  • have interesting, video-friendly content to share
  • have a ‘personality’ as well as a brand
  • welcome feedback, comment and interaction and can deal with it well
  • have staff who are enthusiastic about social media and keen to use online video.

Australian businesses using YouTube range from large corporations (e.g. banks) to small businesses (e.g. personal trainers). Enterprises with a significant online presence (such as real estate firms, tourism operators, or retailers with online stores) often integrate YouTube with other web-based tools as part of their business model.