Isolating #Ebola on social networks

In any emergency, someone may only get one cry for help and if it’s not heard, they may lose their life. Some people might say that happened yesterday to 20+ people in  Chiefdom in  district in Sierra Leone, where an #Ebola #hashtag #fail may have contributed to a call for ambulances being directed towards deaf ears. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently published “Hashtag Standards For Emergencies”, and promptly applied it to the Ebola crisis in West Africa with a series of new hashtags intended to replace the ones already in use locally.

  • #EbolaLR for Liberia
  • #EbolaSL for Sierra Leone
  • #EbolaGN for Guinea
  • #EbolaResponse general updates and discussion
  • #EbolaNeed to share with us [OCHA] what is currently needed

Joanna Lane on Twitter   RT  TheFireTracker2  Ridiculous proposal...  Towards Standardized Hashtags in Disasters  http Mnhg7T58ob via  timolue  SMEM  VOST

That there were also 111 new cases in Sierra Leone just yesterday may have contributed to the current frustration that spilled into the public stream amongst experienced #SMEM and #VOST practitioners.

I was tagged personally by Cédric Moro, who has been active in various capacities supporting the Ebola response since the beginning of the year, who told me that his emergency reports have not received any response on the new tags, in effect calling out @OCHA for a basic failure to understand social media 101, not only for implementing a flawed #SMEM strategy, worse, then not following through.

First do no harm

Cédric Moro on Twitter    EbolaSL Many alerts in  Nieni Chiefdom in  Koinadugu district   20 deaths  need all  and no case by  WHO  EbolaNeed http GJLZgjy5gZSince implementation in Sierra Leone, reports are that engagement is down on #EbolaNeed and #EbolaSL , below the level previously on the local community tags they attempted to replace – #stopEbola14 #GuineeSansEbola #EbolaInLiberia . There was also an interesting #smemchat on the #stopebola14 tag in July.

The assurance that OCHA’s Information Management Officer at OCHA ROWCA, @ChristianCric made, to use official accounts to maintain a high profile for these unique hashtags and to raise awareness of their intended use with health care workers and responders in the field has not yet materialized. There’s even confusion about which official account is supposed to be engaged on these new tags, neither  @Hum_IM or @UNMEER are engaging on the tags that I could see, and seemingly, they’re not even monitoring for reports either.

I even supported the strategy, but they never did that, except a few poor tweets. I’m not happy at all to report emergencies to them and receive no answer at all. said Cédric Moro

A different solution

As to what could replace OCHA’s failed hashtags in West Africa, Cédric Moro’s Guidelines for Mapping by Place Name published in January 2014 would be a good start. Please post others in the comments.

For Context

We do know how to stop Ebola’s further spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to the ill person, and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms. *US Center of Disease Control

By now also, we do know how to use social media to support public outreach in a Public Health emergency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently offering this Heat Map of Ebola Tweets that represents the volume of tweets related to Ebola with sensor-based geolocation data available, some 89,477 tweets had been mapped by October 9 2014, merely 1% of all 894,8660 tweets collected about Ebola from September 19th. At that time, it was possible to observe the correlation between these hotspots and the U.S. Center of Disease Control’s announcement of entry screening at five U.S. airports that receive over 94 percent of travelers from the Ebola-affected nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, namely New York’s JFK, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O’Hare, and Atlanta, to be implemented in a matter of days at that time.

Heatmap of Ebola Tweets   Following disease trends  140 characters at a time   HHS ASPR

However, if you scroll over and zoom into the epicenter in West Africa today, the data is slim to none. The people of West Africa, are simply not using Twitter to talk about their situation, needs or response received, and most certainly, they’re not listening either.

2014_11_11.Heatmap of Ebola Tweets   Following disease trends  140 characters at a time   HHS ASPR

#Ebola hashtags

Inherited wisdom encourages those managing #SMEM to go out there early and big, hoping to influence the sources people rely upon for actionable information. However, when the full spectrum of society worldwide is merged under one 5 character hashtag on a giant global twitter stage, that is also the name of a river, a band, as well as a disease that the public generally fears and doesn’t quite fully understand, important official messages are buried in the firehose and don’t reach survivors, few of whom are listening anyway. It’s then less about #SMEM and more about PR for the international community, of limited value to those seeking to use social media platforms as a tool to change the outcome for survivors needing help, but you can gain a better understanding of the thinking behind the OCHA hashtag initiative in this article.

VISOV and Cédric Moro

VISOV_logoIn January 2014, Cedric More published “Strategic Guidelines for Mapping by Place name” .  The overall approach described there, had been defined and adopted in the course of emergency operations performed by VISOV (Volontaires internationaux en soutien opérationel virtuel meaning International Volunteers in Support to Virtual operations, a francophone team of volunteers active in SMEM) during the following emergency events:

–    Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013
–    Storm Dirk in metropolitan France in December 2013
–    Cyclone Bejisa in La Réunion in January 2014

In March 2014, VISOV was activated for Ebola in Guinea, which is French speaking, monitoring and reporting social media using the Open Street Map platform under Cédric Moro ‘s team leadership.

By July 2014, as Ebola spread to English speaking countries, Cédric saw the need to work in English and took over the work independently. Data is sourced from daily monitoring of the press, NGO reports, official Gov data, and verified social media posts for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. This map is updating live as of the date of posting and for the indefinite future, and includes the following data:

  • Additional response to the health system
  • At least one confirmed ebola dead case
  • confirmed ebola cases
  • Ebola survivors
  • Hostilities to health workers and vandalism.
  • Not cured patients for other illness than Ebola
  • Suspected ebola case
  • suspected ebola dead case
  • Suspected Ebola propagation way
  • Unvalidated suspected cases
  • Urgent needs to fight Ebola

Additionally, Moro shares reports nightly with local health care workers using WhatsApp, which is a simple, personal, real time message, mobile phone app, free to use.

Ebola E tracking in Sierra Leone  Liberia and Guinea  started July 11    uMap

The powers that be who decided that healthcare workers in affected zones use designated hashtags for specific purposes including reporting needs, also gave them the expectation that these same hashtags would be closely monitored and would engage with them, especially when requesting help. They also expected that their reports would be incorporated in reports about the bigger picture in a fully transparent way.

Did those ambulances ever arrive?

Only crickets could be heard, but thankfully UNICEF is on the case and engaging others.

By Joanna Lane
Opinions are my own

UPDATED November 12th: 

Press Release: #VOST Panama attends SINAPROC Meeting (English)


PANAMÁ, September 11, 2014

The National System of Civil Protection of Panamá (Sistema Nacional de Protección Civil – SINAPROC) held a working meeting with the aim of unifying criteria for the management of an emergency, reducing response time and optimizing resources.

Attending this meeting were VOST Panamá, who are a team of digital volunteers for national emergencies. They manage information through social networks, such as public support, where verified information is then channeled through to the emergency response services.

The Director General of SINAPROC, Jose Donderis, spoke about the creation of a new platform for emergency management whose participants would be Governmental and Non-Governmental organizations, the Panamanian Red Cross, volunteers, as well as other organizations. Donderis added that social networking would be integrated in this National Monitoring Center for communications between the public and response agencies, thus reducing the time between the incident and the response to it. The center would be operational 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Furthermore, the VOST Panamá group was asked to participate, given the volume of information it handles nationally, seeking synergy between SINAPROC managers and team members in order to:

  • unify criteria
  • hear proposals for more effective information channels
  • avoid duplication
  • eliminate malicious rumors or chains

Other points discussed were the possibility of joint workshops and seminars, interaction between other Community Managers (CM) with emergency management programs, available premises to be used as needed and a database to manage the IDs of participating teams.

For more information, contact VOST Panamá by email: Twitter: @VOSTpanama Facebook:

English Translation by Nicola Ball

Go here for the Spanish / Español version


Press Release: #VOST Panama Participa de Reunión de Trabajo en SINAPROC (Español)


PANAMÁ, 11 de septiembre de 2014

Con la finalidad de unificar criterios en cuanto al manejo de una emergencia, reducir tiempo de respuesta y optimizar recursos, el Sistema Nacional de Protección Civil (SINAPROC) llevó a cabo una reunión de trabajo.

En esta convocatoria participaron integrantes del grupo VOST Panamá, quienes son un equipo de voluntarios digitales de emergencias a nivel nacional, los mismos gestionan información a través de redes sociales, como apoyo ciudadano, donde luego de verificarse se canaliza hacia los servicios de respuesta a emergencias.

El Director General del SINAPROC, José Donderis, expuso sobre la creación de una nueva plataforma para la gestión de emergencias que se desea implementar en la cual participarán los Componentes Gubernamentales, Organizaciones No Gubernamentales, Cruz Roja Panameña, voluntariado entre otros.

Donderis agregó que en este Centro de Monitoreo Nacional, se estará integrando la parte de redes sociales, como ente de enlace entre los ciudadanos y los organismos de respuesta, reduciendo así el tiempo entre el incidente y la atención al mismo, todo esto bajo un servicio 24 horas los 7 días a la semana.

Igualmente se solicitó la participación del grupo Vost, dado el volumen de información que maneja a nivel nacional, buscando una sinergia entre los directivos del SINAPROC y los integrantes del grupo, con miras a unificar criterios y escuchar propuestas para hacer más efectivos los canales de información, evitar la duplicidad, desarticular rumores o cadenas maliciosas.

También se planteó la posibilidad de gestionar diversos tipos de talleres y seminarios conjuntos, una interacción entre los otros CM que llevan programas de manejo de emergencias, contar con locales los cuales estarían disponibles para cuando sea necesario, igualmente con una base de datos para gestionar los gafetes que serán utilizados por el personal que sea convocado.

VOST Panamá Email: Twitter: @vostpanama Facebook:

Go here for the English version