Social Media for Earthquake Response: Unpacking its Limitations with Care

Marisol Wong
May 10, 2018 · 2 min read

Seeking and sharing information are key activities in times of crisis and disruption (Fritz 1957). Both citizens and formal organizations generate and request information that, given the urgency of the situation, becomes increasingly harder to manage (Fritz 1957, Dynes 1970). Research in the field of Crisis Informatics has explored the role of technology — particularly social media — in supporting such information-related activities (Semaan & Mark 2012, White et al. 2014). However, most of the lessons offered rely heavily on what social media renders visible, thus missing the possibility of generating a more holistic understanding of what technology can or cannot do to support information needs in times of crisis (Wulf et al. 2013, Kow et al. 2016).

We conducted a situated study of citizens’ relief efforts in response to the 7.8 intensity earthquake that hit Ecuador’s coast in April 2016. We investigated how untrained local citizens straddled online-offline boundaries to collaboratively manage the flow of supplies and equipment needed to mobilize crisis relief. Drawing on the feminist lens of care (Fisher & Tronto 1990, Tronto 1993, Mol et al. 2010), we present — in our paper — the details of how citizens chose and combined various communication media channels — including social media — to conduct on-the-ground crisis response, and how they enacted care to fill in the gaps created when social media fell short. We then discuss how our approach allowed us to uncover three relevant aspects to consider when studying the use of social media for crisis relief: first, how the particularities of place shape information needs during crisis relief, second, the temporal complications that result from social media-supported crisis response; and third, the impact that perceived distance (from technology, people, and location) can have on the social media tools people choose for engaging in relief work. The lens of care allowed us to offer implications for the design of crisis management technologies that respond to the sociomaterial and information needs of citizens as they engage in crisis relief.

Takeaways from our research could be relevant for designers of social media platforms and crisis management technologies, particularly those intending to design for the untrained citizen who will inevitably engage in relief work. Further, our situated approach, which contributes to a deeper understanding of the sociomateriality of care in the crisis relief landscape, can be helpful to other HCI researchers interested in using this lens of care to understand where technology might play a role or fall short.

Marisol Wong-Villacres​, Cristina Velasquez, and Neha Kumar. 2018. Social Media for Earthquake Response: Unpacking its Limitations with Care. In Proceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Work and Social Computing (CSCW ‘18). Forthcoming.

Human-Centered Computing Across Borders

This publication is meant to be a co-learning space for researchers working on human-centered computing, across various borders and intersections. Here we share our stories, work, reviews for others' work, and more. Join us!

Written by

This publication is meant to be a co-learning space for researchers working on human-centered computing, across various borders and intersections. Here we share our stories, work, reviews for others' work, and more. Join us!

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade