Disaster Resilience: Emergent Use of Social Media

and Its Effect on Citizens’ Self-Resilience During and After a Disaster

Resilience in human development, a subset of positive psychology, draws attention on understanding human potential by examining how “human adaptive systems intersect with individual differences and environmental contexts to overcome adversity” (Gregory & Rutledge, 2016, p. 99). This post spotlights how highly resilient citizens leverage social media technologies before, during, and after a traumatic event to gather and disseminate information, problem-solve, and more.



Resilience, an inferential concept, refers to patterns of positive adaptation during or following significant adversity or risk (Lopez, Edwards, and Marques, 2016, p. 118).

In psychological terms, resilience refers to a particular characteristic that portrays an individual as sturdy, resourceful, and flexible in the face of uncertainty or threat (Luther, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000).

In times of disaster

During disasters or natural events (earthquakes, hurricanes, death of a loved one) events as well as interpersonal violence (accidents, terrorism, war, harassment), a great emotional toll can be exacted on an individual. He or she can be faced with life-altering trauma and, as such, is put into a position where both their physical and emotional health can be significantly impacted.

When a chaotic event occurs, it tends to start suddenly with a short or absent warning period and then takes a severe course (Jurgens & Helsloot, 2018).

Because such events predispose an individual to a shock, a stress, or some form of adversity, individuals may or may not demonstrate their capacity to “bounce back” from disaster-related downturns. Those able to not just survive but thrive despite exposure to experiences and conditions associated with negative outcomes are said to possess a resilient attitude and positive adaptability.

The Growing Practice of Social Media Use In Emergencies

The use of social media in emergency, disaster, and crisis situations is a growing practice first observed shortly after the devastating earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti back in 2010 (Keim & Noji, 2011). The way emergency management personnel, and the public at large, organized to assist those quake victims has reshaped disaster-related support activities ever since.

Ten years later, public use of social media has skyrocketed with millions of tweets, posts, shares, likes, uploads, and forwards occurring every single hour.

And with each disaster that occurred since 2010, the world has witnessed (by way of social media) time and again just how highly resilient citizens have proved to be after a traumatic event.

Resilience researchers have also noticed and have been studying post-disaster human resilience by looking into its effect on four elements of self-resilience:

  • information gathering,
  • information dissemination,
  • collaborative problem-solving,
  • and coping (Jurgens & Helsloot, 2018).

Information Gathering

Disasters tend to create uncertain situations.

In an effort to combat confusion and uncertainty, those affected seek helpful and reliable information to help restore a sense of normality (Lachlan, Spence, & Seeger, 2009).

Because they need to know what’s happened, what the situation is, and whether help is on the way, affected individuals will organize as best as they can to establish a meaningful framework for the events and ensuing circumstances (Jung & Moro, 2014).

Such efforts today include reaching out to local media as well as using social media to gather the latest situational information.

Information Dissemination

Before the Internet and social media capability, most people relied on television and radio to spread information.

With the advent of social media, however, anyone now can broadly disseminate information and target specific communities.

Just like people want to gather information on the situation of their family and friends, do people also want to get the word out to their social environment on their own situation (Procopio & Procopio, 2007) or the situation around them.

Additionally, social media also enables information and knowledge production (Linders, 2012). People can create their own information, add value to information that they pass along, and discuss it.

Collaborative Problem-Solving

Social media facilitates collaborative problem-solving, collaboration, congregation, and sense-making on a large scale.

Those affected use social media to mobilize support, coordinate vast quantities of available data, increase productivity, and create more valuable outcomes (Jurgens & Helsloot, 2018).

This emerging phenomenon of volunteers grouping together to provide aid to those in need or to survive a dangerous situation together is facilitated by social media (Scanlon et al., 2014). Such social media-enabled activities shift the dynamics from individual to collective, crowdsourced networks.


An important element of self-resilience is the ability to cope, which speaks to thoughts and behaviors that people use to handle the demands of a stressful situation (Spence, Lachlan, & Burke, 2007), with the actual event and its aftermath.

Lazarus and Folkman define coping as “constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person” (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 141).

Moreover, coping is an important subset of resilience; it allows individuals to manage the bare minimum as they work towards “bouncing back.”

Coping strategies in times of disaster may include emotional support, instrumental support, emotional venting, and positive thinking (Jin, 2010).

Social media facilitates these types of coping strategies for both individuals as well as collective communities, allowing for signaling signs of life, confronting reality, and gaining emotional or logistical support for improved welfare (Tandoc & Takahashi, 2016).


The use of social media in emergency, disaster, and crisis situations since Haiti’s earthquake (Keim & Noji, 2011) has generated strong interest. While there’s limited (but steadily growing) scholarly literature available on this subject, there’s ample research proving social media offers individuals and collective communities alike numerous opportunities in support of human resilience under adverse conditions. Social media use during and after major incidents can support human resilience on very large scales, thus aiding entire populations to not just cope and get through an ordeal but to also “bounce back” well beyond disaster aftermaths.



Alexander, D. E., & Alexander, D. E. (2014). Social media in disaster risk reduction and crisis management. Science and Engineering Ethics, 20(3), 717-733. doi:10.1007/s11948-013-9502-z.

Dufty, N. (2012). Using social media to build community disaster resilience. The Australian journal of emergency management27(1), 40-45.

Gregory, E. M., & Rutledge, P. B. (2016). Exploring Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Well-Being: The Science of Happiness and Well-Being. ABC-CLIO.

Gruber, D. A., Smerek, R. E., Thomas-Hunt, M. C., & James, E. H. (2015). The real-time power of Twitter: crisis management and leadership in an age of social media. Business Horizons, 58(2), 163-172. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2014.10.006.

Houston, J. B., Hawthorne, J., Perreault, M. F., Park, E. H., Goldstein Hode, M., Halliwell, M. R., . . . Griffith, S. A. (2015). Social media and disasters: A functional framework for social media use in disaster planning, response, and research. Disasters, 39(1), 1-22. doi:10.1111/disa.12092.

Jin, Y. (2010). Making sense sensibly in crisis communication: How publics crisis appraisals influence their negative emotions, coping strategy preferences and crisis response acceptance. Communication Research, 37(4), 522–552.

Jung, J. Y., & Moro, M. (2014). Multi-level functionality of social media in the aftermath of the great east Japan earthquake. Disasters, 38(s2), s123–s143.

Jurgens, M., & Helsloot, I. (2018). The effect of social media on the dynamics of (self) resilience during disasters: A literature review. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 26(1), 79-88. doi:10.1111/1468-5973.12212.

Kaufmann, M. (2015). Resilience 2.0: Social media use and (self-)care during the 2011 Norway attacks. Media, Culture & Society, 37(7), 972-987. doi:10.1177/0163443715584101.

Lachlan, K. A., Spence, P. R., & Seeger, M. W. (2009). Terrorist attacks and uncertainty reduction: Media use after September 11. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 1(2), 101–110.

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Linders, D. (2012). From E-government to we-government: Defining a typology for citizen coproduction in the age of social media. Government Information Quarterly, 29(4), 446–454.

Lopez, S. J., Edwards, L. M., & Marques, S. C. (2016). The Oxford handbook of positive psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Luther, S. S., Cicchett, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construction of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development, 71-543.

Keim, Mark & Noji, Eric. (2011). Emergent use of social media: a new age of opportunity for disaster resilience. American Journal of Disaster Medicine. 6. 47-54. 10.5055/ajdm.2010.0000.

Procopio, C. H., & Procopio, S. T. (2007). Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? internet communication, geographic community, and social capital in crisis. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 35:1, 67-87, DOI: 10.1080/00909880601065722.

Scanlon, J., Helsloot, I., & Groenendaal, J. (2014). Putting it all together: Integrating ordinary people into emergency response. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 32, 43–63.

Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: Interdisciplinary perspectives. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5(1), 25338-14. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338.

Tandoc, E. C. Jr, & Takahashi, B. (2016). Log in if you survived: Collective coping on social media in the aftermath of typhoon haiyan in the Philippines (pp. 1–16). New Media & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444816642755.

Taylor, M., Wells, G., Howell, G., & Raphael, B. (2012). The role of social media as psychological first aid as a support to community resilience building : A facebook study from ‘cyclone yasi update’. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27(1), 20-26.

Zou, L., Lam, N. S. N., Cai, H., & Qiang, Y. (2018). Mining twitter data for improved understanding of disaster resilience. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(5), 1422-1441. doi:10.1080/24694452.2017.1421897.


Please share any questions or feedback in the comments below.

Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

📸  Lt. Zachary West


There are no comments yet.

Leave a comment