Twitter shutdown in Turkey impacted earthquake rescue operations

Twitter shutdown in Turkey impacted earthquake rescue operations

  • Science
  • February 11, 2023
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The following essay is reprinted with permission from The conversation The Conversation, an online publication about the latest research.

Twitter was blocked in Turkey on February 8, 2023, according to internet monitoring service NetBlocks. The outage came amid the massive rescue operation and humanitarian crisis that followed the earthquakes in southern Turkey and northern Syria two days earlier. Access to Twitter appeared to have recovered about 12 hours after the first blockage.

Twitter is a microblogging platform that offers users the ability to share short chunks of text, audio, and video, as well as post conversations into threads. Almost immediately after the main tremor, thousands of eyewitnesses posted videos and photos on social media, particularly Twitter. Such first eyewitness accounts are invaluable in helping emergency workers and researchers assess the extent of the damage and tailor assistance to what is needed on the ground.

The Twitter blackout, which was likely the result of government action, seemed to have it disabled rescue and relief efforts. NetBlocks found that ISPs had blocked traffic to Twitter and that people were able to bypass the block by using a virtual private network, or VPN.

Officials in numerous countries routinely block access to social media and the internet to limit the flow of information. Turkey is among the countries with a long history of internet censorship.

Twitter’s role in disaster relief

Twitter has been used extensively during past natural disasters. A 2013 US Department of Homeland Security briefing reported that social media has played an important role in disasters. Twitter, in particular, is an important source of crowdsourced and real-time eyewitness data, allowing response personnel to interact with impacted communities.

A recent study examined all 375 million tweets on Twitter in a single day (September 21, 2022) and found that the service allowed governments to push crisis information to citizens and citizens to seek help and information. This way of communicating and coordinating response efforts has been useful in many situations, from a water pollution crisis in West Virginia to a hurricane evacuation in Florida.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief require real-time monitoring, almost immediately after a disaster occurs. Combining Twitter feeds with geolocation data and mapping the extracted information makes it possible to visualize an unfolding crisis. Responders can track the locations of damage, casualties, and resources to determine how best to target relief efforts.

This type of data also helps researchers in fields like transportation gain insight into the dynamics of evacuations. A time-based analysis of tweets during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 shows that researchers can use crowdsourced data from Twitter to quantify the intensity of a hurricane in real time. Such analysis of damage and flood images shared across social media helps emergency managers identify storm damage and plan relief efforts.

Loss of access to Twitter, whether from government blockades, financial barriers to Twitter’s application programming interface, or Twitter outages like yesterday’s global glitch, will severely limit up-to-date information on disaster response as events unfold. It also hampers the ability to learn from the past and prepare for future emergencies.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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