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Connecting to Nepal - Social Media and Natural Disasters


News used to be so much simpler, especially with regards to natural disasters like the massive earthquake which struck Nepal on Saturday. The 7.8 quake ravaged Kathmandu, caused landslides on Mount Everest and has racked up a death toll of over 3,600 and counting. In the past you would receive news like this in a big, simplistic forward roll, with all the news updates saying the same thing in different fonts, be they televisual, print or radio. With the advent of social media, it has become more scattershot, since all the different platforms have such varied ways of delivering information and everyone has a voice.

The same rule can be applied to donations and aid, but in that sense it’s actually easier to get the word out than it’s ever been before. Facebook has allowed more people to become connected than any social media platform before or since and awareness and donation campaigns for past natural disasters have proven wildly successful. Aid campaigns were put in place after the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami and the more recent Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines. This most recent iteration allows people to donate directly through the home page and then immediately declare in a status update that they have done so, encouraging others to do the same.

Facebook have also implemented a person finder tool that allows people in Nepal to declare themselves safe, notifying everyone on their friends list. Equally friends within their network can update on their behalf if needs be. This idea was first put into proper practise by a charity after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and then Google developed a far wider reaching version in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Their version has also been updated to help people in Nepal, allowing people to run safety checks via SMS to monitor the safety of people in the affected areas.


All of this good work clearly shows how effective social media can be in situations like this. Twitter has also been heavily used to circulate incident updates from the source and notify the relevant people with up-to-the-minute information. The Indian Minister of External Affairs has made her account a hub for information about the rescue operation out of Yemen, keeping updates rolling out regularly and answering questions 24/7. #NepalQuakeRelief has been trending and is a point of access to a Google document listing information about embassies and rescue centres (where they are, what they need, etc).

Of course, social media’s potential as an organising tool runs parallel to its position as a source for knee-jerk reactions. Global connectivity has created an atmosphere of reactionary urgency when it comes to things like this, everyone has to be the first to say something, even (and especially, it seems) when they don’t know all the facts. This means that any time tragedy strikes, people start looking for ways to use it to draw attention back to themselves. This can range from emotional outbursts to disturbing, gallows humour to woefully misjudged advertising. The Nepal catastrophe is no exception.

Companies like the online glasses merchant LensKart and fashion mainstay American Swan posted deeply inappropriate advertising slogans relating to the quake mere hours after the news broke, whilst hundreds of users on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere put their grubby fingers to keyboard and tapped out the nastiest, most insensitive dreck their tiny reptilian brains could conjure. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it helps no-one. Humour can be vital as a coping mechanism after a disaster, but you need to be an actual victim for that rule to apply. This isn’t to suggest that this kind of behaviour is anything new, it’s just more obvious now that it’s online instead of in locker rooms, the backs of pubs and the Bernard Manning Appreciation Society (which probably meets in the back of pub).

Similarly though, reactions of shock and grief are utterly useless without action, offensive comments can be ignored and for every unpleasant globule of bile there is an outpouring of impotent sadness that plays no beneficial role of any kind. That’s the other key issue with social media, people feel as if they are taking action merely by reacting to something and this is a toxic phenomenon that might as well be promoting lethargy.

Ultimately though, all that nonsense is eclipsed by the amount being done in the name of aid and relief. In a connected world, taking action is becoming easier with each passing year and it is impossible to undervalue what Facebook, Google and others have been doing to stem the chaos. I urge you to follow their example, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise have posted comprehsive lists of the best sites to donate to, but beyond that donating via Facebook or GlobalGiving is just as good. Be sure to share your donation on all the appropriate platforms because as tacky as it might seem, any chance that you might spur somebody else into doing likewise is worth taking.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

Contact us on Twitter, on Facebook, or leave your comments below. To find out about social media training or management why not take a look at our website for more info http://socialmediacambridge.co.uk/.
Connecting to Nepal - Social Media and Natural Disasters Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 Rating: 5


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