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How to Use Social Media to Help in a Crisis

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

Typhoon Haiyan ran a course of destruction through the Philippines this week, cutting through the middle of the country on a westbound track. It came with sustained winds of nearly 200 mph (320 km/h)- gusts were up to 235 mph. Can you even imagine what it feels like to be in that kind of wind? Not being able to stand, or walk; the smallest piece of airborne debris hitting with a painful sting. Imagine being in a car going that fast (as if)- you couldn't hold your hand out the window.
How to use social media to help in a crisis
Like this Super Typhoon, we are in Southeast Asia, but very far away from the bad weather. We've received through messages asking if we were nearby or affected by the storm, and I'm grateful that we were not and have no cause for concern. But we watch closely: being aware of the weather is important for our security, and we have friends who are in the area affected, or have families there. Cebu, a popular stop for cruising sailors, was smack in the path. Thousands of casualties are expected. It is hard to hear about human pain, and feel helpless to do anything about it.
But here's the thing: it is possible to help, even from a remote perch. You, sitting there on your phone or your computer taking five minutes to reading this, you can take action to contribute to the relief effort. It won't cost anything but a few minutes of your time. How?
How to use social media to help in a crisis
Social media offers a way for voices to be heard. The problem for relief agencies is to cut through the volume of content to find and process the important data, to separate it from the noise. A series of apps allows that task to be crowdsourced: to throw it out to volunteers who can scan and categorize the messages. This micromapping helps agencies understand where the needs are greatest, and what those needs are, so they can concentrate and direct their efforts.
Sitting here, with our lousy internet connection, I could quickly categorize a couple of dozen tweets. Our friends Tim and Bec from sv Infinity, who turned me on to this, are scanning and categorizing on their phone from what is probably a much worse connection in Bali. This is tremendous, really. It feels like a game changer to move slacker clicktivism into a meaningful way to make a material difference in a crisis response, and it is EASY.
Do you want to know more about micromapping? Start by reading this article on Patrick Meier's blog.
Ready to just jump in and scan a few tweets? Go over to CrowdCrafting's TweetClicker and start.
Feeling more traditional? The Philippine Red Cross would be grateful for donations.
If there is one thing to be grateful for about Typhoon Haiyan, it's that the path through the Philippines was cut very quickly, instead of lingering and causing even greater damage. Now, however, it's headed across the South China Sea to Vietnam, pointing right at Hanoi. It's weakening, but still packs a punch. I'm going to scan and categorize a pile of tweets, and ping my friend Rick in Hanoi.

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