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Social media took on similar traditional role of the church

Social media took on similar traditional role of the church in quakes

August 21, 2012

Social media took on a role which had traditionally been the domain of the church, providing support and guidance, during the Christchurch earthquakes, a University of Canterbury (UC) lecturer said today.

The people of Christchurch turned to social media for help and provide information after all the big quakes, lecturer Ekant Veer said. He will be part of a panel discussing the issue at the Australasian natural hazards conference which officially opens on the university campus today and runs all week. More than 250 experts, researchers and CERA and government officials are attending the conference.

Photo: A New Brighton scene after the February 22, 2011 earthquake

Veer said not only were social media platforms being used as a place for people to express their knowledge and thoughts of a major event, but they were becoming more a place of connection and community.

``After a major crisis community halls and churches would traditionally be rallying spots and places for a community to connect with others affected. However, with many of these buildings deemed unsafe for occupation and transport links down, social media emerged as ‘the church’ where people could connect, share stories and experiences, and find solace in the comfort of others.

``As the earthquakes subside, interest in Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups will become less prominent, however, they reform very quickly and easily when a new shake is felt.

``We found many people who were not avid tweeters or Facebook users are now heavier users of the platforms after the quakes, so will likely be more quick to use them again in the case of another crisis, whether it is natural or otherwise.

``If you look at the web traffic statistics, the traditional news media were still being used as a means of communicating information; however, it was not seen as the most important source as Geonet and Civil Defence were tweeting reasonably regularly. Social media were getting information from the experts, rather than via the media.

Veer said much of what was being reported by the traditional news media had already been discussed on Twitter. It almost became a case of traditional media summarising the various tweets, rather than offering anything new – which made some social media users wonder whether the name ‘news’ becomes irrelevant when there was nothing ‘new’ in it.

Traditional news media would always be important for distributing information to a mass and wide audience, but it was definitely not being used for immediate and timely updates, which was where peer centric platforms, like Twitter excelled, he said.

After every large aftershock in Canterbury the #eqnz hashtag on twitter and the Geonet facebook page switched into gear. Both Twitter and Facebook had been powerful platforms for digitally connected Cantabrians to connect with others and express their thoughts.

Immediately after the February 22, 2011 earthquake there was a huge amount of traffic on social media passing on practical information, such as sites for fresh water and food; but also as a means of sharing support.

Beyond the organised efforts, such as the University of Canterbury Student Volunteer Army and various baking armies, the use of social media became a place where people could turn to in order to feel more part of a community that was being literally shaken to the ground.

``It was an interesting case whereby after a major shake, people would check on their immediate family, but almost simultaneously update their Facebook status and tweet to let others know they were safe and receive messages of support from around the world.’’

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