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
#Nieni Chiefdom in #Koinadugu 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
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.
— Cédric Moro (@Moro_Cedric) November 11, 2014
First do no harm
Since 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.
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.
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.
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
In January 2014, Cedric More published “Strategic Guidelines for Mapping by Place name” http://www.i-resilience.fr/2014/11/strategic-guidelines-for-smem-mapping-by-place-names/ . 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:
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.
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.
— anne boher (@anneboher) November 11, 2014
TOMOBLOG: help doesn't come to Devil Hole http://t.co/NN85cvAdcX
— alex thomson (@alextomo) November 11, 2014
— alex thomson (@alextomo) November 11, 2014
By Joanna Lane
Opinions are my own
UPDATED November 12th:
Three days waiting – Mohamed died at 5pm last night still waiting for an ambulance pic.twitter.com/DgSYzUilMt
— alex thomson (@alextomo) November 12, 2014