The horrific Nepal earthquake of 2015, which has left over 3,200 people dead and many more injured, has once again shown how crises unfold in various ways in this social media obsessed age.
For starters, the current Indian government has got its social media strategy spot-on when it comes to dealing with crises, even the ones that take place abroad. After giving live updates of the Yemen rescue operations and with the Minister tweeting out to one citizen at 1 am in the morning, the Ministry of External Affairs has once again been active in dispensing information on Nepal.
Like in the Yemen scenario, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj had tweeted regular information about the Nepal earthquake. Her tweets have links to important numbers and whoever is in charge of her social media management has made sure that the account is accessible, even late in the night. Swaraj’s account has also put out numbers of the local officers in Nepal who people can turn to for help.
You can check out her tweet below:
Pl RT Control Room numbers : +91 11 2301 2113, +91 11 2301 4104 +91 11 2301 7905 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) April 25, 2015
Pl RT Indian Embassy in Kathmandu Helplines no.s : +977 9851107021, 9851135141 — Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) April 25, 2015
Indians in Nepal may please contact our mission in Kathmandu. Our mission will provide you all help.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) April 25, 2015
LO for Indian Community Shri Arun Jain (Counsellor) 009779851107005 Ms Sumati Rao 009779851107006
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) April 26, 2015
Similarly, the new MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup and the Ministry of Defence Sitanshu Kar have been giving updated information on the rescue and relief works being carried out.
Their tweets are listed below:
— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) April 26, 2015
In addition, the good citizens on the Internet also shared a Google Doc with details of official embassy names, the official on-ground organisations that are helping out, along with volunteering opportunities for those who want to go in and help out. You can view the Google Document here.
Twitter India News Head Raheel Khursheed also shared Slides on Facebook, which highlight exactly what is needed by those affected in Nepal. The slides explain that currently in Nepal dry rations, sugar, milk (not perishable cooked items) are urgent requirements. In addition to this, there are details of the medicines required, since many hospitals were destroyed by the quake. There’s also an address where people can drop off these items in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata. You can visit the incrisis.org website here, if you wish to donate.
But not everything in social media has been a blessing when it comes to the Nepal Earthquake. Rumour-mongering, is back in full-force.
On Sunday, Facebook saw many people share a status updates which talked of how a bigger earthquake was coming, apparently at 8 pm. As if to add to the authenticity, the update mentioned that it was NASA that had predicted this and that earthquakes would continue for over a month as the Indian tectonic plate was colliding with Euroasian plate. While the latter is true and the movement has been going on millions of years, it doesn’t mean that predicting earthquakes is yet possible.
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The message was also extensively shared on WhatsApp, with some helpfully adding they were not sure if the whole thing was true, but it should be forwarded nonetheless.
While aftershocks do occur in the aftermath of a big earthquake, such messages are nothing but bogus and once again showcased that in India, social media is often a platform for feeding on people’s worst fears.
And these weren’t the only social media fails. Lenskart and American Swan, two brands, decided to mock all the fuss when the earthquake took place originally in Nepal.
Lenskart send out an alert saying, ‘Shake it off like this Earthquake,’ while American Swan sent one about ‘earth shattering discounts.’ Both companies then apologised, (after more than an hour) when they realised that their strategy had backfired and that there had been massive destruction in Nepal.
But even if there had no been destruction, there’s really no justification for such a message, since it is a life-threatening event, no matter how big or small. Both companies chose to ignore restraint, and instead wanted to quickly send out what they thought were delightful puns on the subject. When what they should have done was wait to see if there was any destruction. The companies chose speed over waiting for the actual facts to emerge, which did within hours.
With Nepal Earthquake, the positive side of social media and governance has definitely come to the fore, and we should hope that this is maintained in case a disaster like this ever hits India. But it needs to be acknowledged that social media be it Facebook or WhatsApp or Twitter, have also become tools to help spread baseless rumours, which should be best avoided at times of such a crisis.