Government use of social media for public safety

Social media isn’t just changing our personal lives or even our professional lives in marketing. It’s changing the world. A recent article I read really made me see social media in a whole new light. Georgia Tech, Professor Michael Best is drawing attention to how social media can help identify – even prevent – dangerous situations.

Voters that took part in the Nigerian presidential election last April embraced social media during this uncertain time. Nearly 40 MILLION Nigerians voted in this election, which was just the second presidential election since the country emerged from civil war in 2003. You can see the potential for civil unrest.

The article explains how Best may have saved lives by following posts and tweets made by these people and raising a red flag whenever anything seemed like it could get out of hand.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Best and his team of researchers designed a social media aggregator tool that could pull content from about 20 different sources (including Twitter) and analyze the data in real time using keywords.

At the peak of activity, the aggregator tracked about 50 reports per second and analyzed them based on keywords and (sometimes) location data. The Nigerian Social Media Tracking Centre, formed just before the election by the organization Best was supporting, forwarded along confirmable reports of election irregularities and ultimately reports of violence to Nigerian authorities. All together the aggregator collected about 750,000 reports containing pre-identified keywords, and following the election the SMTC issued a summary report that listed a series of recommendations for using social media and instant messaging to improve future election experiences, such as:

  • Training civilian groups and voters to tweet election results
  • Organizing SMS group accounts for both national and local election officials
  • Establishing a central database to collate election results, and having local precincts send results via SMS
  • Advising international monitoring organizations to partner with domestic groups that will monitor social media.”

I think we all tend to see social media as a marketing tool and/or a personal way to stay more connected with the world around us. I thought it was really interesting to see how it can be used in very different ways.

This article really struck me so did some searching and found a little more information. I had no idea until just now that social media is already an important part of disaster and emergency management. This Congressional Research Service report outlines how government agencies are currently leveraging social media for emergency response. Crazy!

What do you think?

One thought on “Government use of social media for public safety

  1. I think that social media is the best way for us to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world and never have to look anywhere in theory other than our smart phones. As you pointed out campaigns are using it to not only measure activity but target people as well. Additionally, more and more, universities are using social media to inform students quickly and efficiently with information that they need to know right away. I also think back to the recent (and quite random) earthquake that rocked the east coast. Many people turned to social media to find out if their loved ones were ok. I think we will find social media to be a permanent part of our communications repertoire.


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