Is Social Media a disease or a liberation technology?

There are some people in the emergency management community who see social media as purely beneficial, but we have to recognize that there are others that see it as just another headache, or added responsibility, and want nothing to do with it.

Patrick Meier, firmly in the beneficial camp, posed this question on his blog iRevolution on Aug. 8, 2010:  Is Ushahidi a Liberation Technology?  A couple of days later, I received an email from a local emergency manager describing social media as a disease that he didn’t want to catch. [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=computers&iid=9316917″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9316917/intel-light-peak/intel-light-peak.jpg?size=500&imageId=9316917″ width=”234″ height=”336″ /]These two concepts are so far apart that it made me pause. How can some emergency managers  be so resistant of this new technology suite, when others are essentially calling it a savior to the people?

Patrick’s question was based on an article by Larry Diamond in the Journal of Democracy entitled Liberation Technology. You can read Patrick’s post and the article to get the full implication, but in essence he is talking about how people are using social media to organize themselves in order to protest repressive regimes and even over-throw governments in some cases.  These new tools, including Ushahidi, allow average citizens to map and document everything from voter intimidation to environmental disasters. As Dr. Diamond asserted, the age of human rights abuses going undocumented died with the birth of YouTube.

Yet, here in the U.S. we don’t have government officials fretting over  Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as they do in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. (thank goodness); in fact we have the opposite, complete denial in some cases, that it even matters. Does it matter? As emergency managers, do we care what people are doing on social media after a disaster? I’m going to leave this question open-ended, but I hope to use this blog over time to make the case that we better be paying attention.

What do you think? Disease, savior or little bit of both?

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