2012: Social media use by emergency and crisis response agencies

2012 will be the year in Sweden when professional agencies in the domain of civil security, emergency- and crisis response will make a major leap into social media. We have already seen some impressive initiatives by for example MSB with the krisinformation.se crisis information service. Just before christmas, the Swedish Police announced that they are taking explicit steps to make better use of Facebook and twitter to reach out and to gain information from the public. Many fire and rescue services have a professional and a systematic presence on both Twitter and Facebook. It is a strong movement and more agencies moving into social media will happen during the year. The troublesome aspect here is: What happens next?. There are at least two major challenges that the above organizations might face when they continue along the social media trajectory:
– Facing hoax events via social media
– Harvesting social media information in balance with public opinion

First, by presenting more and more, as well as faster and faster contact points between the public and their own organizations, they will face the risk of new types of attacks. An organization that has deep connections via social media is open for hoax-events where accidents and emergencies can be presented that has never happened in reality. It is today not very difficult to swarm an organization with incorrect information and there by having one or several organizations believing that a situation is under way or ongoing that in fact is just a hoax. With the dynamics of social media, putting pressure on one or several organizations using hoax situation reports is not very difficult. Providing protection against it might be less easy especially if the information sharing attitude between these agencies are less than perfect.

Secondly, when the agencies are solidly located in social media, they will start to harvest social media information. Harvesting social media information is a very hot research topic and early work has shown that there are some interesting challenges that must be solved in order to develop harvesting mechanisms that fit within existing legal boundaries. In addition, one must also make sure that social media information is harvested in balance with what the general public perceives as acceptable. There are many initiatives that from a technological point of view is addressing this challenge. Just a few initiatives is addressing this challenge from an organizational and social perspective. It is reasonable to believe that this topic will be in focus during 2012. Looking at the US, we see some telling reports indicating the importance of this topic: “DHS Creates Accounts Solely to Monitor Social Networks.