Social media 'took on church role in quake'

Social media took on a role of that had traditionally been the domain of the church, providing support and guidance, during the Canterbury earthquakes, a researcher said today.

The people of Christchurch turned to social media for help and provide information after all the big quakes, according to University of Canterbury (UC) lecturer Ekant Veer.

He will be part of a panel discussing the issue at the Australasian natural hazards conference which officially opens on the university campus today and runs all week.

More than 250 experts, researchers and Cera and government officials are attending the conference.

Veer said not only were social media platforms being used as a place for people to express their knowledge and thoughts of a major event, but they were becoming more a place of connection and community.

"After a major crisis community halls and churches would traditionally be rallying spots and places for a community to connect with others affected," he said.

"However, with many of these buildings deemed unsafe for occupation and transport links down, social media emerged as 'the church' where people could connect, share stories and experiences, and find solace in the comfort of others."

Immediately after the February 22, 2011 earthquake there was a huge amount of traffic on social media passing on practical information, such as sites for fresh water and food; but also as a means of sharing support.

Beyond the organised efforts, such as the University of Canterbury Student Volunteer Army and various baking armies, the use of social media became a place where people could turn to in order to feel more part of a community that was being literally shaken to the ground.

"It was an interesting case whereby after a major shake, people would check on their immediate family, but almost simultaneously update their Facebook status and tweet to let others know they were safe and receive messages of support from around the world."


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