When disaster strikes, it is social media to the rescue. When an earthquake hits Turkey, people turn to social media in key moments.
On Sunday October 23rd, 2011, at 1:41 in the afternoon local time, a destructive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2M struck Van, Turkey. The earthquake has caused heavy damage to buildings and it is feared that up to 1000 people may be dead. The most recent reports confirm that 279 bodies have been found. According to Duncis Genger from Turkey’s search and rescue team UMKE, “There are still many trapped underneath; it may take us days of searching … There are too many sad stories.”
The last time Turkey experienced an earthquake was in a different millennium. The year was 1999, and the Internet was still a teenager. There was no Facebook (there wasn’t even MySpace yet!) and email was just catching on. In 1999, it was difficult to communicate essential pieces of information.
However, in 2011 when a 7.2 earthquake hit Van, on the eastern side of Turkey, technology proved to be a superhero of sorts. Similar to the technologies provided to Haiti and Chile, Google has reconfigured its person-finding tool. This allows people to request and post information about friends and family members. According to a TIME blog, the system is currently tracking 2000 records. On Twitter, hashtags such as #van and #deprem (the Turkish word for “earthquake”) are trending. Moreover, people are tweeting constantly both to find loved ones as well as to share relief. Groups like the Red Crescent are using one click donation services, and Facebook has updated its information on aid requests to include items such as insulin and diapers.
Not all of the social media initiatives are global. Some of the most moving are locally based. Ahmet Tezcan, a reporter with 16, 000 followers, offered his spare apartment to a family in need, and he tweeted about it, encouraging others to do the same. Within hours, over 15, 000 people had emailed to the “my house is your house” campaign, offering people space in their homes or spare rooms. If that isn’t enough to renew some of your faith in humanity, it’s hard to say what will do it for you.
Another advantage to the flurry of social media surrounding the earthquake is that it puts pressure on companies and corporations to respond quickly. Shortly after a tweet that read “Van needs drinking water. Still waiting for a water company to step up”, three pledges from companies were announced. Similarily, several airlines have lowered their fares to Van and a heater company said it was sending 1000 electric heaters to the area.
While social media is not a long term solution, it is an effective short term strategy to distribute information and support during a time of crisis. While it is little consolation to those who are affected by the earthquake, social media is playing a significant role in improved modes of communication compared to ten years ago. It is a small thing to be thankful for, but it is better than nothing.