After the tragic attacks that occured in Brussels last week, Digital Maniak makes the case for social media in emergency situations like these (french version available here)

Use Social Media to alert and inform people

It’s 8:06 AM, just 8 minutes after the first explosions at the airport when the first journalist tweets about the events:

Quickly, to follow the chronology, located hashtags emerge on the network:

  • First is #Zaventem : name of the city where the airport is located. It’s also how brusselers name their airport, and #Maelbeek, name of the subway station damaged
  • Then, journalists are getting on board, using Brussels or Bruxelles or #Brussel, depending on the spelling of the city in their respective countries
  • When first suspicions that the explosions are linked, fear of attacks like paris surge and declinate the #ParisAttacks hashtags into #BrusselsAttacks

This spread of hashtags corresponds to the first phase of the use of social media in emergency situation, called the Information Phase. In this first phase (out 6 in total, you can read more on Nicolas Vanderbiest website), users of social network are trying to detect and identify hashtags big enough (meaning used by enough reliable sources) to follow the stream of tweets linked to the events.

Moments after the second blas in the subway, social media jumped into the Organization phase, using social media to find out if relatives are affected by the attacks and organizing researches. 

To contact and reassure your relatives : the role of Facebook Safety Check

Launched in the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal, Facebook Safety Check is a tool allowing people living or localized around a disaster to confirm they’re safe. The tool also allows you to mark safe people you know they’re OK. 

Facebook Safety Check for Brussels Attacks


Why should you use the Facebook Safety Check ?

By marking you safe on the tool after a disaster, you spare dozens of calls from your relatives to emergency services. These non-made calls clear the way for very urgent calls between emergency services themselves. It is equivalent to leave free on a highway shoulder to help emergency vehicles to reach the accident zone.   Of course, if the Safety Check is not enabled, you can always publish an update on your social media accounts. But we’ll see why you should be careful. 



Why was the Safety Check activated 3 hours after the 1st blasts ?

A bunch of negative comments burst out about the activation timing. Some argued that 3 hours agter the first blasts was too long and asked for the tool to be available sooner. Let’s look into this: one of the reasons Facebook took time to deploy the Safety Check was the fear that attacks may not yet be over. It is indeed very dangerous to help people marking themselves safe if their environment is not safe.

On Twitter: solidarity hashtags

During the Organization phase, these hashtags are tools to gather good will and collaboration with people hurted, injured or affected in any way by the blasts. These hashtags provided all kinds of solutions, from offering a coffee to helping people to go back home.

#OpenHouse #PorteOuverte #IkWilHelpen #BrusselsLift

In close collaboration with Sylvain Lapoix, french journalist who launched #PorteOuverte during the Paris Attacks, and the support of EENA, the european emergency number Association, aka the 112 (the european 911), we launched #OpenHouse and reactivated #PorteOuverte to allow the inhabitants of Brussels to offer a safe accomodation to people stuck in Brussels: relatives to injured people, travelers stuck because of the airport and train station shutdown for instance. These 2 hashtags were soon joined by #IlWilHelpen (« I want to help » in Dutch) used by the flemish community from Belgium or #BrusselsLift, gathering free car-pooling offers to workers unable to go back home.


Quels résultats ?

Regarding #Openhouse : more than 3000 tweets have been sent in the 24 hours following the attacks. We counted more than 80 houses opened. Reactions were very positive, showing the solidarity for Brussels inhabitants.

It was also very interesting to notice that these hashtags were sometimes hijacked : many parisians used them also to offer accomodation in Paris for people who could not go back to Brussels after the shutdowns.

SMES : Social Media in Emergency Situation needs all stakeholders

This post shows how Social Media can be effectively used in case of emergency situation. They’re able to:

  • 1 – Quickly give safety instructions and help to follow the good stakeholders
  • 2 – Spread good and fact-checked informations to avoid rumors
  • 3 – Coordinate local actions and crowd-seed informations through volunteers (like VISOV)


#BrusselsAttacks #OpenHouse : the case for social media
#BrusselsAttacks #OpenHouse : the case for social media

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