Hashtag Standards for Emergencies
As part of the ongoing close collaboration between OCHA and QCRI, regular conversations on how to improve crisis computing have taken place over the past few years. In May 2014, members of OCHA and QCRI met in Doha to discuss our ongoing efforts and recognized that it is clear that innovations in policy were equally important as innovations in humanitarian technology. Standardization of social media (and data) hashtags and the encouragement of enabling GPS during crisis were recognized as a policy piece that could have major impact on integrating big-crisis data into emergency response going forward. This think brief is the culmination of the research.
In recent years, social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and blogs have demonstrated significant value during emergencies as the “information currency of disasters”. These digital tools give affected communities a flexible information platform to share local knowledge, transparently document efforts crowd-verify or eliminate false rumours, and engage in two-way communication with formal emergency response agencies.
Twitter is currently the social media platform best suited for emergency response due to real-time post- ing, public feeds and asymmetric relations (one-to-many or non-reciprocal information exchange). Facebook users comprise 82 per cent of the global social media market aged outside of China, but privacy settings limit its use during a disaster. Other social media tools are used for emergency preparedness and response (e.g., YouTube), but there is less evidence-based research supporting their uptake during a crisis.
By having formal response agencies embrace social media platforms to augment traditional monitoring channels for large-scale, sudden-onset disasters (e.g., floods, hurricanes, tornadoes), response agencies are demonstrating willingness to engage with the public in real time and empowering the public as community first responders. This paper aims to demonstrate the value of social media tools, such as Twitter, as situational awareness and emergency reporting platforms, and to advocate more effective information collection through effectively curating hashtags.