Facebook, Wikipedia better in emergencies

According to a study that is to be published in New Scientist magazine tomorrow, Facebook and Wikipedia are better at getting crucial information out during emergencies than either government agencies, emergency services — or the traditional media. The study, done by researchers at the University of Colorado, looked at how Facebook and Wikipedia were used by students during the Virginia Tech shootings, and how Twitter and other social media were used during the forest fires in California. As the Telegraph story describes it:

“During the Virginia shootings, they found the emergency services were slow to update their reports on the latest situation and the names of those killed. Within just 90 minutes of the first deaths, however, a web page accurately describing the events appeared on Wikipedia.”

The study found that dyring the fires in California in October, web users on various websites and those using Twitter were keeping their friends and neighbours informed of their whereabouts and the location of the fires on a minute by minute basis, and were also posting links to Google Maps with which others could track the progress of the fire and mark areas where schools and businesses were shut down as a result of the threat. The media weren’t so useful, however:

“The mass media were unreliable… as they struggled to access remote areas from which website users with an internet connection could easily report. Media sites also focused on the ‘sensational’, such as fires close to celebrities’ homes, which distorted the overall picture.”

Some interesting lessons there, for both emergency services and the media, about information delivery on the Web.

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