The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), with support from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), have published a brief guide on how to use social media to better engage people affected by crisis. The guide is geared towards staff in humanitarian organisations who are responsible for official social media channels.
“Today, over three billion people use social media – that includes individuals affected by natural disasters or armed conflict,” said Charlotte Lindsey-Curtet, Director of Communication and Information Management at the ICRC. “More and more, people affected by crises look to these platforms to find and share vital information. If we want to better inform and adapt our response, it is imperative that we also meet and engage affected people online.”
During disasters like the that have strike the US and Caribbean, or the ongoing migration crisis worldwide, Facebook and Twitter are – and continue to be – crucial components of the humanitarian response. The platforms allow local and international actors to coordinate relief efforts, and disseminate lifesaving messages in real time. More importantly, affected communities use the channels to reconnect with relatives, seek help, and provide feedback and complaints on the assistance, or lack thereof, received.
Combatting fake news
Dr Jemilah Mahmood, Undersecretary General for Partnerships at the IFRC, said that in the chaos that normally follows a disaster or crisis, rumours and fake news can spread quickly. “If left unaddressed, these can undermine the trust people have in humanitarian organizations, and can even make it less safe for our volunteers and staff. By engaging with social media as standard practice in the aftermath of an emergency, we can understand what people are worried about; we can see the news they are sharing; and we can respond decisively, accurately and collaboratively,” she said.
To date, however, humanitarian organizations’ use of social media to engage and communicate with – not about – affected people remains largely untapped. Practical guidance (both thematic and technical), best practices and lessons learned continue to be under researched and inadequately documented. This 20-page guide aims to address that gap, and is intended as a living tool as technology and social media platforms evolve.
“The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is very pleased to support the publication of this guide,” said Gwi-Yeop Son, Director of Corporate Programmes. “We believe that community engagement is an essential part of any humanitarian response, and as more people around the world rely on social media to seek information and assistance in emergencies, humanitarians must ensure that we are part of that conversation.”
As much as this guide wants to help humanitarian organisations better serve people online, the ICRC, IFRC and OCHA want to stress the importance of keeping locally relevant, trusted two-way communication channels open. This is of critical importance as many of the most vulnerable may remain offline, or lose online access.