Monday, 24 October 2011

Turkey's Earthquake: Social Media to the Rescue (an article by Pelin Turgut)

I wanted to share with you a brilliant article about responses to the Van earthquake.

It is written by TIME's Turkey correspondent Pelin Turgut. (Pelin is the daughter of my blogging friend Claudia at A Seasonal Cook in Turkey


Turkey's Earthquake: Social Media to the Rescue

"The last devastating earthquake Turkey experienced was in 1999, back when it was still largely an analogue world, email was in its infancy and Mark Zuckerberg was just another high school dreamer. As a reporter I had to lug a satellite phone around to dictate bleak daily missives from disaster-stricken western Turkey (20,000 people had died, entire avenues were wiped out) because there was no other means of communication. Official relief took days to arrive. And when it did, it was often inadequate and poorly planned.

Contrast that to yesterday's disaster. Hours after a 7.2 earthquake struck Van, in eastern Turkey, technologies whirred into motion that would have been unimaginable back then. Google has already reconfigured the person-finding tool it used in Haiti and Chile, allowing people to both request and post information about the safety of loved ones missing in the rubble. (Their system is currently tracking some 2,000 records.) Hashtags like #van, #deprem (earthquake in Turkish) trended instantly, and are being tweeted hundreds of times per second as people share information on how to help and what to donate. Groups like the Red Crescent (the Turkish equivalent of the Red Cross) and AKUT, a search-and-rescue organization have enabled one-click SMS donation services. On Facebook, users share updated information on aid requests – winter clothing, insulin, diapers — as filed by people on the ground in Van and have started pages listing bus and freight companies that are delivering aid packages free of charge.

The sheer number of people with their eyes on the wire creates pressure on companies to respond –and quickly. ‘Van needs drinking water. Still waiting for a water company to step up!' read one tweet on the #van page. Shortly afterwards three water firms announced pledges of shipments to the region. Under similar pressure, several airlines have lowered fares to Van while a heater company said it was sending 1,000 electric heaters to the region.

Then there are the homegrown initiatives. Ahmet Tezcan, a Turkish reporter with close to 16,000 followers, posted a tweet offering his spare flat to a family in need and suggesting others do the same. Within hours, 20,000 people had emailed the ‘My house is your house' (#EvimEvindirVan) campaign, offering their homes or spare rooms. The campaign's success has been such that the Istanbul governor's office has taken charge. There is now a 24-hour hotline where people can apply to stay or host.

Social media is not, of course, a substitute for the long-term and difficult work that undoubtedly lies ahead in Van where thousands are now homeless and winter is fast encroaching. One telling tweet asked for Kurdish-speaking volunteer psychologists (the region is largely Kurdish) to get in touch. Nor should it make us complacent as to the impact of our efforts. But as a reminder of what human kindness can achieve, it too has its place."


  1. Turkey is very much in the news right now and just a few minutes ago I saw a young boy being pulled alive from the rubble and several faces trapped but alive and looking out of some horrible hole waiting to be rescued.
    This brings hope that more people will be brought out I am pleased that help seemed to get there very quickly. The new technology is a God send as regards the news and pleas for help.
    Lets hope many, many more people will be pulled out alive.
    Thanks for filling us in on this terrible situation.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  2. Maggie I often moan about there being too much new technology, but at times like this, we can be so grateful for it.
    You are probably getting more news than I am as we don't have a TV. So I'm relying on the internet and friends for news.

  3. What a wonderful use of what are often very trivial social media. Thanks for posting the article, Ayak. I keep checking the BBC website for updates on a very sad situation.

  4. won't catch me dismissing social media ever again!

  5. Well done you, dear Linda. You certainly posted this quickly. It is quite amazing how fast things are being seen to. The speed of change here in Turkey has to be lived through in order to be appreciated. Yes, what lies ahead for the people of Van cannot be minimized but at least they should know that they are not alone.

  6. Claudia. I'm amazed and relieved that things are happening this quickly. I'll never forget the 1999 earthquake when we were living in Turgutreis and so many people from Istanbul, who were on holiday were unable to contact their loved ones because of the phone lines being down. It was heartbreaking.
    Well done Pelin for a brilliant article, which will no doubt have a knock-on effect and bring more help to those in need. xxx

  7. And I've been so cynical about tweeting and twirping...finally, a good use for it.

  8. Yes me too Fly. A pleasant surprise.

  9. Fantastic article. I think that in an emergency twitter, facebook, and other social media is truly helpful. But in regular times - can be a bit of TMI overload!

  10. 'Cross the Pond: I guess everything has an upside!

  11. I was so pleased to read this article Linda. After the UK riots, there was so much criticism of social media however this article has highlighted the positive points of it. There is a negative and positive regarding everything in life and it is important to remember the positive that comes out of it, not harp on about the negatives.

  12. My sentiments entirely Natalie xx


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