Implications of Digital Communication in Crisis

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In the past I’ve spoken about how social media and the web have been useful and utilized to enhance and facilitate communication and information sharing. In the case of a disaster crisis this is especially important because of the urgency of the situation. Liza Potts in Architecting Systems for Participation (2014) explains that ‘disasters present high-pressure cases that show how well systems can support participation when that participation is urgently needed,’ and this is when communication and information sharing is critical. In the various systems that provide software to find or account for missing-persons, or the post-disaster fundraising campaigns. Or closer still, in its involvement during these catastrophic occurrences; from the student within a mass-shooting who messages a loved one to say goodbye, or the messages this student might receive, letting them know the location and description of the assailant they need be wary of.

Digital technologies within crisis can communicate the injuries of a nation in a situation of natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, It can communicate the injustices of people or government within the sharing of videos and pictures of protests; helping inspire change or awareness. It can help rebuild lives; sourcing immediate assistance and support on a global level.

Where in the past the information we would find about crisis situations would be through official news channels of newspapers, television and radio; as ‘documents’ to be received in a passive way. Today, the digitalization of media and the inclusion of social media platforms have allowed the communication of such information to be on a much more instant, global and participatory level.

They are not just ‘documents’ to be observed, as Potts notes, they require an engaged approach is to be experienced rather than observed. The information received on social media and the web is now also information to be interacted with, commented upon, shared. And while the social media environment is one where (potentially incorrect) information travels quickly- it is also a space where this can be quickly corrected by the public.

Social media and the web have also allowed more opinions and perceptions to be communicated than ever before, Mckosker explains how ‘these new modes of visual witnessing and distributed encounter facilitate the defaming of disastrous events in a way that tethers global engagement and attention directly to the flow of effect’. It has enabled us to get a clearer and closer picture of catastrophic events occurring around the world, to find out quickly whether friends in Paris are safe, to follow the blog (and journey) of the Syrian refugee, to donate to families effected by the Nepalese earthquake.

There are many ways in which social media and the web’s facilities to communicate information have been utilized in these scenarios. But there is still room for improvement. Within the chaos and clutter of ‘information overload’ is the difficulty of navigation, as can be seen in the clash of hashtags during such crisis situations (the earthquake of New Zealand eventually finding its appropriate hashtag as eqnz) or in the difficulty of locating the information on missing-persons within CNN’s appropriated software. As Pott’s explains ‘we have a major opportunity to be at the center of these conversations,’ the internet is still new, and its ever-evolving ecology requires the joint effort of everyone (the software producers, industries, teachers, students, scholars) to enable it to structure itself appropriately, to better accommodate the needs and facilitate lives of individuals, societies and the world.


Potts, L. (2014) in Architecting Systems for Participation

McCosker, A (2013) Intensive Media: Aversive Affect & Visual Culture. Houndsmills: Basingstoke.

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