News & Views
Social apps save the day

Facebook, WhatsApp and even Yo are being used to share helpful information during times of crisis.

In fiction, you might expect to be aided in times of crisis by a superhero or especially helpful dog. In reality, you can now turn to Facebook. “We want to provide a helpful tool that people can use when major disasters strike, so we’ve created Safety Check,” states the official announcement on Facebook’s Newsroom. The Safety Check app, available on both Android and iOS, started out as a message board, and quickly evolved into a tool which enables users to let their friends and family know that they’re safe if they happen to be in an area affected by a disaster.

Leveraging social platforms to share information during emergencies makes perfect sense; even the novelty app Yo has been used to alert people about attacks in Israel. Most recently, the BBC has launched an Ebola public health service via WhatsApp. It is targeted at West African users, and consists of three updates per day in both English and French “As the biggest ‘chat app’ in use in Africa, the platform is being used as a means of reaching people directly through their mobile phones,” say the BBC.

A week prior to this news, Quartz reported on a hackathon at Virginia Tech University, “The Computing for Ebola Challenge”, which aimed to create “tangible, easy-to-use web apps for residents in these countries to use in emergency response situations.” While there has been some debate over how effective software can be in the face of such serious, real world problems, the intention behind the hackathon has been met positively. The results of the challenge were later included in a PopSugar round-up of various apps that can be used to prevent the spread of Ebola.

“It’s not about the software,” says Nathaniel Mott at Pando. “It’s not even about media organisations trying to get information to the people who most need it. It’s about the intersection of technology and infrastructure. If that’s not worth exploring… I don’t know what is.”


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