Smartphones & social media: a virtually exclusive benefit for those living in the West?

Although mobile technologies importance for many aid workers in the field is unquestioned, vulnerable people in crisis situations are often still facing difficulties in getting access to the data that they need. What happens if they don´t have a smartphone to get access to special apps? It is generally very difficult for people in rural areas to gain access to the Internet and social media in general. This was also reported in the blog post „The Digital Divide“ by Rudele Nanette. On the other hand, during crisis situations in Europe, like the migration crisis 2015/2016, many people gained access to the Internet and it was possible for them to communicate via Social Media. According to wearesocial.com/blog/2017/01/digital-in-2017-global-overview, the current number of internet users worldwide is around 3.773 billion and still quickly rising.

But during disasters, people are in need of help. With the introduction of smartphones and mobile technologies, a new point of view was opened up: people can locate themselves in a very fast way. This can safe lives because people are sharing data and many of them are having mobile devices in their hands. People are connected everywhere and technology should be easy to use and flexible in all situations, so that an „early warning“ SMS can be sent ahead during a hurricane and public health disasters like for example cholera.

As reported in one of my earlier blog posts Mind The Gap: Data Security In Aid Work Through, mobile technologies contain risks, which are naturally quite unpredictable. Social media makes many different actors to interact together. What was previously not possible, is now enormously varied through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other online tools. „Just one of billions of interactions (that) take place through that network every day – we can see the main elements that define social media and how they can be understood“ (Meikle, 2016, p. 2).

Interestingly, many NGOs and employees who are working in the development field (at least in many locations in Europe) are part of the online community and communications. Many are also up to date with Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp as well as blogging to stay in contact and get across with readers and users. Take for example Facebook, on which today everyone can create their “unique Facebook network, and each also becomes implicated in lots of different networks, some centred around different individuals, each time they interact on Facebook” (Meikle, 2016, p. 4). Social media make it possible for users to interact from different locations and establish new networks of relationships, colleagues and friends (ibid). „Such communication can flow in multiple directions between multiple combinations of people, although it may be misleading to use the phrase many-to-many communication, as the numbers involved in a given communicative event may be quite small (ibid). The interesting point about social media is the shares which “public message and the personal communication” that takes place in the same time. (ibid). Furthermore, “they are both visible to others within that networked moment” (ibid.). Social media are very powerful tools and only the future will tell us how useful mobile technologies in aid work can become, as it still is an ongoing process.

References: Meikle, G. 2016: Social Media: Communication, Sharing and Visibility. Abingdon: Routledge.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *