At 12:58 PM on May 1, 2011, an IT consultant from Abottabad, Sohiab Akhtar inadvertently tweeted “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event),” first hinting the sleepy world about a covert operation that took down Osama-Bin-Laden. Years later, the same medium helped a bunch of repressed Arab countries a precipitate their anger against dictatorial regime and pull them down. It has forever redefined the meaning of “real-time news” in reportage across the globe. Yes, we are talking about Social Media, the newest form of media that is here to stay.
Many incidents in 2015 have repeatedly proven the efficiency of Social Media in crowd sourcing help and circulating life-saving information at times of crisis.
What's recent is the incredibly different number of ways in which Social Media has aided the relief and rescue operations during the #Chennaiflood. During what was termed as the worst rains of the century, netizens actively took to Social Media sites like Twitter and Facebook to spread emergency helpline numbers, locate their near and dear ones and even share details about places that are safe and those that remain inundated. In a heart-warming way, Social Media also came to the rescue of a pregnant woman in Ramapuram who experienced labour pains two days ahead of her due date.
Stories of resilience and kindness were the 'talk of the tweeple' as posts about extra-ordinary Chennaiites who went out of their way to help was retweeted multiple times. Like this story about a milk woman whose devotion to duty despite the record breaking rains was praise-worthy.
Our milk lady Radha in Chennai - been delivering for 25 years, and did not fail to show up this morning. pic.twitter.com/WrcCITS60e— Ramanathan S (@madarassi) December 2, 2015
A few volunteer groups put Social media to best use when the city’s mobile networks were blackened out for nearly three days. Using hashtags like #chennairainshelp and #chennaimicro, they circulated tweets about free and safe accommodation, food supply packets, safest routes in the city etc...
>>Related: Meet the Heroes of Chennai Floods
The #Chennaifloods was also one of the most googled terms of the year at 26 million times which is more than that of searches related to Europe's migrant crisis and water on Mars.
Over a million refugees have arrived in Europe this year by land and sea after having fled war and persecution. Many died en route while making the dangerous journey in flimsy rubber boats and refrigerator trucks. But somehow, it took this gut-wrenching picture for the entire world to take #RefugeeCrisis seriously.
As soon as a Turkish news agency published pictures of a 3-year old Syrian boy's body being washed ashore, the #refugeecrisis debate assumed renewed interest and spotlight on Social Media. Millions of people started to empathize with the death of the toddler whose picture symbolized the migrant crisis across Europe and the Twitter hashtag "#kiyiyavuraninsanlik", translated from Turkish as “humanity washed ashore” went viral.
While various media companies differed on their stand regarding the ethical implications of using the graphic photograph, Twitteratti mostly stood united on the need for developed nations to adopt more empathetic migrant policies. Hashtags like #RefugeesWelcome and #PeopleNotMigrants also started trending shortly after the disturbing image came to light.
Recent reports also suggest that various Syrian migrant groups are extensively using Google Maps and GPS to identify safe passage routes to Europe, presence of police and road blocks. Social Media platforms like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Viber are also being used by many refugees to locate and contact smugglers and find accommodation on their arrival.
Many like Maziad Aloush, a Syrian refugee fleeing the civil war also documented their arduous migrant journey across the west Balkan route by sharing pictures on Instagram.
The horrific suicide attacks that rocked Paris on 13th November, 2015 claimed 130 innocent lives. While many netizens expressed their solidarity with Paris, many Social Media sites were also filled with tweets that hinted an anti-migrant backlash. However, in a year that saw terrorism and human catastrophe on an unprecedented scale, little acts of humanity that were aided by Social Media highlighted the power of the newest form of media to ease suffering in an increasingly violent and mobilized world.
My Friends are safe, in a random woman's home. She's making them dinner, & preparing beds. Blessed. #PorteOuverte— TK Westfield (@TWestfield) November 13, 2015