#TweetToTransform: using Twitter to save lives

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The phenomenal growth of Twitter presents an unmatched opportunity for humanitarians. Twitter’s capacity for instant dialogue has ensured crucial information about disaster zones flows seamlessly, and that people are able to show solidarity with those affected. While natural disasters can undoubtedly cause widespread humanitarian havoc, a lot can be done for the victims - even from outside the crisis zone. Through the #TweetToTransform initiative, Oxfam India’s targeted collaboration with Twitter is designed specifically to highlight best practices in disaster management and public communication.

The first forum held in July in New Delhi focused on sharing Twitter-led strategies to support relief operations. The Bengaluru edition of the #TweetToTransform event in October took the conversation forward. As was mentioned by Pankaj Anand, Oxfam India’s Director of Programmes and Advocacy, social media and particularly Twitter are an integral part of the organisation’s humanitarian response. This is largely because of its unrivalled power to mobilise people in real-time.

Oxfam India’s first use of Twitter was during the Kashmir Floods in 2014. During this crisis, we put out information about the needs of flood survivors and brought their stories directly to Twitter users, and eventually the world beyond. We were part of building a larger conversation, harnessing examples of where citizen groups had organised themselves over Twitter to help coordinate relief materials, including Tweeting about those trapped so that the emergency services could reach them.

“The power of Twitter in facilitating such actions comes as no surprise. Twitter is an integral communications tool for reaching people during disasters” says Mahima Kaul, Twitter India’s Head of Public Policy. She continued, “we saw an incredibly powerful example of this during the Tsunami in Japan in 2011, when Twitter users shared shared countless Tweets about the scope of the impact zone, updates about the safety of friends and family, and conversed moment-by-moment on the status of the disaster as it unfolded.”

The power of Twitter in saving lives was also clear in the experiences shared by Kamal Kishore, a key member of the National Disaster Management Authority of India, who spoke of how disaster management has evolved as a result of Twitter. Earlier, surveyors relied on conventional means for getting information from a disaster zone, but now they can crowdsource real-time risk assessments through Tweets. As Ishita Anand, CEO of BitGiving, pointed out, “using crowdfunding campaigns is another valuable way to support those affected by raising much-needed funds for aid responses.”

Yet caution must be heeded too. This came across most prominently in the lively discussion with the audience. It is critical to make sure the information being shared is credible, and is not false or fanning rumours. Also, given India’s geographic and linguistic diversity, Tweets in local languages must be put out in a crisis situation to reach more people.

In all, the partnership between Oxfam India and Twitter is an excellent opportunity to use technology for social good. Social media platforms such as Twitter have an amazing capacity to bring people from all walks of life together - from corporates to government agencies and relief responders to the common citizen.

We believe that Twitter’s potential for change also goes beyond disasters. Twitter can and should be used for causes which deserve all our support. From education to gender justice, right through to challenging systemic poverty, it’s a powerful platform for catalysing change. For our next step, we will be looking to expand the #TweetToTransform forum to include the above issues and we will be expanding our scope in order to host additional conventions in different parts of the country.

For now, we invite the NGO community to start using social media and Twitter to drive social change, to be a part of the upcoming forums and to share their learnings with each other.