April 25th, 2015. The world woke up to remnants of Nepalese villages emerging from the rubble, displaced people in desperate need of aid, images, videos and news stories with a casualty number slowly clocking into the thousands. We immediately sprung into action.
July 28th, 1976. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the town of Tangshan in China. The official death toll was 242,000. It wasn’t until several days later that the world knew of the disaster, and weeks later of its extent.
Over the last few decades, the rapidly globalising world has allowed for an expansion in the spread of information that has proved vital in an increasingly politically and environmentally unstable world. Termed by Appadurai as ‘mediascapes’, these expansive information networks have created a new foundation for the response to and depiction of natural disasters in the modern world.
Mediascapes are defined by Appadurai as ‘the distribution of the electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information’, and the rapid growth in technology has revitalised this notion through the introduction of the internet and in particular, social media. Twitter, Facebook and other platforms have shifted from a mediocre representation of what you ate for lunch to a vital tool in disseminating information, issuing warning and providing emergency response during natural disasters, all of which have been facilitated by the globalisation of information.
Take the 2011 flooding in Thailand for example; analysis of the Twitter hashtag ‘thaiflood’ revealed 64, 582 unique tweets regarding the floods, with 39% of these tweets regarding ‘situational announcements and alerts’, 8% as ‘requests for assistance’ and 5% as ‘requests for information’. Using the platform, government organisations were able to provide information almost instantaneously, thus facilitating faster and more efficient delivery of aid and assistance. As Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Associations asserted, ‘The convergence of social networks and mobile have thrown the old response playbook out the window’.
Globalisation has provided not only the means, but the instantaneity and the interconnectedness that enables information to be spread in times of dire need. Consolidated by McLuhan’s idea of ‘The Global Village’ where geographical boundaries are no longer a barrier in the sharing of ideas, the globalisation of media not only acts as a primary catalyst in the dispersal of information but also facilitates the responsibility of global citizens to actively support those in need. Ultimately, global media acts as a key player in timely and effective responses to natural and human disasters. Through the globalisation of media and the increased capacity to send a receive information on an international scale, we are creating more effective means to cope with disasters, and ultimately save lives.
Take a further look at the extent to which Americans rely on social media during natural disasters here
Powell, J, Steel, R, 2011, Revisiting Appadurai: Globalizing Scapes in a Global World- The Pervasiveness of Economic and Cultural Power, International Journal of Innovative Interdisciplinary Research, Issue. 1, pg. 74-79
Fraustino, Daisy, J, Liu, B, Kin, Y, ‘Social Media Use during Disasters: A review of the Knowledge Base and Gaps’, 2012, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, PG. 7-24
Appadurai, A, 1996, Public Worlds: Modernity and Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation, University of Minnesota Press, pg. 27-47
O’Shaughnessy, M and Stadler, J (2008) ‘Globalisation’, Media and Society (fifth edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 458-471.