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Responsible social media: #earthquake, #evacuation, #DangerToOthers

Ardy Nugraha
Ardy Nugraha

An international relations student that tries hard to be considerate of the people around him

Jakarta  /  Wed, January 31, 2018  /  04:20 pm
Responsible social media: #earthquake, #evacuation, #DangerToOthers

Social media is a double-edged sword, and InstaStorying a video of an earthquake evacuation may cause more harm than good. (Shutterstock/File)

The bubble surrounding the belief that Jakarta is immune to earthquakes burst last Tuesday, in the early afternoon of Jan. 23. This was probably the first time that many people in the capital really felt the impact from an earthquake.

Personally, it took me 5 seconds to realize that there had been an earthquake, once I saw the pictures swinging on the wall. After those 5 seconds, my mind connected the dots quickly and told me that there was only one thing to do: get out. I grabbed my phone, which was right next to me, and fled my house.

Soon after I stepped outside, I was joined by more neighbors. Instinctively, I contacted my family to find out how they were and told them I was safe, and subsequently got on social media to find out more about the event.

The topic dominated everyone’s timeline on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Soon, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) released information on the earthquake, including its magnitude and epicenter, on its official Twitter account. People shared stories about what they were doing when the quake hit. Certainly, this is unsurprising behavior. However, there was one particular behavior in how the information was communicated that was somewhat worrying.

Many people I came across on Instagram documented and recorded (or to use the current vernacular, ‘InstaStoried’) the process of their evacuation, especially from high-rises. Stories on the earthquake evacuation were shared in videos taken on a camera phone, including a voice describing the process.

Immediately, I questioned the intention behind such documentation and thought this was wrong for two reasons.

First, the main idea behind an evacuation is to get out quickly and smoothly, and recording the process possibly defeats this purpose.

Evacuation is one of the emergency procedures that are followed in response to an earthquake. The purpose of an evacuation is to escape and egress immediately and with urgency from an area that poses potential threats and an imminent danger to lives. The words that need underlining here are "immediately" and "with urgency". This means that an evacuation must be done as quickly as possible.

Any other activities that could hinder or disrupt the process should thus be avoided. Turning on a camera phone, recording and describing the situation would surely impede the flow of evacuation.

Second, slowing down an evacuation means putting other people’s lives in danger.

Evacuating a building involves big crowds. It requires not only a good emergency evacuation plan to avoid confusion, injury and damage, but also a combined effort from the people that are evacuating or being evacuated. The sole responsibility of people during an evacuation is to follow instructions stringently to avoid interrupting the flow of a mass of humanity. Any other activity unrelated to evacuation procedures would slow down and potentially disorganize the process.

Should there be an aftershock, people that are still in the structure would be at high risk of physical injury. This means that recording the process can obstruct the evacuation, thereby putting other people’s lives in danger.

Having described the two reasons above, it is fortunate that this particular behavior of recording an evacuation did not lead to any casualties – at least, none that made it to the news. And hopefully, such behavior never will.

Still, as the media reported in last Tuesday's earthquake coverage, the lack of knowing how to respond in an earthquake caused one person to be injured and another to lose consciousness in Cianjur and Depok, respectively. This should be taken with all seriousness, especially since increasing activity has been observed over the past year in a series of earthquakes that originate from that particular zone off the southern coast of Java, the same zone that triggered the Jan. 23 quake.

It is commonly understood that social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it cuts across time and space when it comes to connecting with people. On the other hand, its excessive use not only creates an actual disconnect with the people around us, but also might put other people’s lives in danger. So, use it responsibly. (dev/asw)


Ardy is currently studying international relations at a private Jakarta university. A self-proclaimed happy-go-lucky type of person, he tends to opt for quality over quantity. He is fond of learning foreign languages; probably a little too much.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.