In Case of an Emergency, Do Not Rely Entirely on Facebook

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 25 2011 12:33 PM

In Case of an Emergency, Do Not Rely Entirely on Facebook

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Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For those of us on the East Coast, it’s been a bizarre week: first an earthquake, and now a looming hurricane. After Tuesday’s earthquake, many took to Twitter and Facebook to let friends and family know they were safe (and maybe brag a little, as I did). Indeed, FEMA has encouraged people to use social media and texting in the aftermath of a disaster, to keep cell phone networks from buckling under use. But Fast Company’s Neal* Ungerleider warns that it might not be wise to depend wholly on cell phones and social media when disaster strikes:

[I]n genuine emergency situations such as Hurricane Katrina or the recent Mississippi River floods, the time delay caused by typing in SMS text messages or social media updates can cause risks to safety or property. As much as social media evangelists may claim otherwise, sometimes there is no substitute for voice-to-voice communication.

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A good point, albeit one that is applicable only in such high-pressure situations. Ungerleider also cautions that we must remember that social media and texting are not (yet) ubiquitous. “Older individuals, the less well-off, Luddites, and those who simply haven't acclimated themselves to the dubious joys of text messages, Facebook, or Twitter will face significant difficulties in keeping tabs on loved ones when the worst happens.” Letting family know that you’re OK after a disaster is valuable, but perhaps more important: When disaster occurs, remember that those Luddites might be less up-to-date on information than those who can access social networks.

Read more on Fast Company.

*Correction, Aug. 25, 2011: This post originally misspelled Neal Ungerleider's first name.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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