Why Tweeting Is Safe

It's official: Twitter is lifesaving.

A new study in the journal Science Advances, finds that social media can provide a potential path to safety and security during a crisis. Researchers looking back at Hurricane Sandy of 2012 detail how 52 million geographically pinpointed tweets gathered from before, during and after the hurricane offered data on where the weather event ultimately caused the most damage. Big data was useful for scientists in figuring out that the areas that experienced the most notable spike in Twitter activity were associated with areas where residents filed the most insurance claims and received the most individual assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency grants. Crunching numbers was made exponentially faster and easier by technology.

Social media and information technology are taking up vital positions in the tool box of preventive actions and post-crisis response approaches in all kinds of events, domestically, and overseas. During earthquakes, from Haiti to South Asia, social media has helped track down victims and locate survivors under deep rubble. Predictive analysis is also being used to determine where fault lines exist as well as weather patterns. Twitter and Facebook are using emergency alerts to warn citizens and connect those in need of assistance when danger strikes.

Imagine refugees stranded along dangerous routes in and out of countries. They rely on mobile phone, and increasingly social media, to get life-saving information on where it is safe to travel.

Victims of domestic violence are able to utilize apps and other technologies to report abuse without having to show up at a police station or clinic.

And those who live and work in isolated parts of the world, particularly in the agricultural sector, are using social media to glean insights into everything from climate to costs for products and services.

Health care is increasingly improved by access to pharmaceutical information online.

We often wring our hands at the intrusion of social media into our lives. But for those impacted by natural disasters, conflict, or crisis, that iPad, or keypad, cell phone or mobile app may become opportunities not disadvantages.

So celebrate technology. It may just save your life.

Tara Sonenshine is former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. She serves on the board of directors of Peace Tech Lab which uses technology to prevent and respond to global conflict.