News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

How Facebook is saving the Philippines

There is no question social media has made the world smaller, for better or for worse, and has completely changed how we get information. I speak personally as someone whose livelihood thrives on the rise of the blogger and the fall of conventional media, but I am confident, regardless of how plugged in you may be, nobody expected Facebook usage to help save the Philippines.

While we’ve all seen the media game change rapidly as blogs and twitter become more viable new sources, (Egypt anyone?) it is fascinating to me how this mindset has expanded from simply reporting the news and sharing information about our lives and our worlds to something as specific and highly organised as disaster aid. Considering most of us can’t effectively use email to get all our friends in the same place at once, this development is worth paying attention to.

In the past, social media aid work has stopped at texting or tweeting to donate five dollars to a particular cause. And while those methods are worthwhile and easy ways to folks to provide assistance to areas in need, they go to international organisations such as the Red Cross, who have come under criticism more than once about where they money they raise goes, and how much is spent.

Regardless of whom you believe about the Red Cross cash flow, it’s hard not to argue that the populations living in an area know more about what they need than an organisation coming in from the outside. The Philippines’, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst ever known to hit land, is putting this idea into practice by cutting out the middleman and using social media sites like Facebook to organise volunteer groups and send supplies where needed.

Two years ago, the Philippines was named the social networking capital of the world, with 93.9 percent of the population signed up to Facebook. This perhaps makes turning to Facebook to form adhoc aid groups more understandable in context, but the work that is being accomplished, regardless, is amazing.

In Guiuan, one of the areas most devastated by the storm, some folks who met on Facebook shipped in medical supplies from Manila and by all accounts, grandstand at Villamor air base currently looks like a convention centre for grassroots assistance projects many of which originated online. All of this has been entirely self started, with no government assistance, which makes these projects even more trustworthy in the eyes of many citizens, simply because they know who set it up and they know where the money is going. (If you want some further reading on the problems in the Philippines in regards to corruption and disaster aid, click here.)

Since the Philippines is so plugged in, that this happened makes sense. But it also marks an increasing trend where national aid groups are coming under criticism for blocking out indigenous aid groups with local knowledge. That the Philippines has been so effectively able to organise helping itself through free social media sites will make the future of disaster aid very interesting to watch, and it is very likely that national aid organisations, much like national media organisations will have to evolve or face the risk of going extinct.

Image source: Global Post

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