Strong earthquakes shook the city of Christchurch, New Zealand in Feb. 2011, which caused substantial damage to many churches and cathedrals. As a result, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook took on important support roles during the crisis. 185 people died during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake.
While churches and community centers are the normal gathering areas for a community to connect after a major disaster, in this case, many buildings were damaged and transportation was damaged, so social media almost became another type of ‘church’ after the quakes.
Churches of course wanted to provide their normal support roles during the crisis, but they were having to deal with their own issues, including severe building damage.
Social media allowed those affected by the crisis to pass on important information, including where to find food and fresh water.
Also, social media sites were used by people affected by the quakes as places for them to talk about their knowledge of what had happened. Many people who had not used Facebook or Twitter much before used it quite a bit during the earthquakes.
Web traffic stats in New Zealand showed that the regular news media was still used as a source of information during the events, but were not viewed as the most important way to get information during the crisis.
Actually, government agencies in New Zealand, such as Geonet and Civil Defense were tweeting important information. Much of the news that was being discussed in the regular media had already been heavily passed around on Twitter.
It will be intriguing to see in future natural disasters if people around the world continue to partially bypass traditional media and traditional support networks and rely on social media to connect.