Social Media and the Philippines: Media’s relation with the typhoon


A brief exploration of new media and its relationship with Typhoon Haiyan

On the 8th November, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan ruthlessly swept through the central Philippines, killing thousands and leaving many, many more homeless or displaced. On the 8th November, I left a status on Facebook that read: Love it when you find £10 in your old jacket pocket. Thanks past me!


As Asia faced a terrible storm, I was blissfully unaware of what was occurring across the other side of the world. Obviously, I cannot be blamed for my necessary ignorance of the transpiring disaster, but my point is that my trivial Facebook status was in no way going to change the world – it was just a silly way for me to let my friends what was going on.


This is what most people do on Facebook – they make relevant those thoughts or facts that are objectively irrelevant to most of the people with whom those thoughts or facts are shared. However, when Haiyan began its deadly rampage against the helpless people of the Philippines, some people sprang into action in a myriad of helpful ways. Here, I shall briefly outline some of those innovative uses of Facebook and other social media sites then move on to what I believe are the moral responsibilities of social media users to help make this crazy mixed home we call Earth, a slightly better place.

 haiyan typhoon weather map

First, a few important facts. For those who are unaware, Typhoon Haiyan is rumoured to be the most powerful and destructive storm in recorded human history and hit the eastern and central parts of the Philippines on the 8th of November. At the time of writing, the death toll stands at 5500. Five and half thousand people, dead. Add to that a further 600,000 people left homeless and another two million displaced (forcibly removed from their hometown). In essence, this is far more than rain and flash floods – lives were ruined, or lost, in a matter of hours and the damage caused is almost unimaginable.


However, in even the darkest of times, there is rarely a complete absence of light. It still surprises me how much people are willing to give when a remote part of the world, completely disassociated from their daily lives, hits hard times. So, when Dr Evangeline Cua, a surgeon based in the city of Tacloban (a pseudo-capital city of the Philippines) took to Twitter and sent a tweet begging for donations so she could set up a medical team to treat the diseased and injured masses in a local church, the response that yielded over £30,000 in twenty-four hours, enough to send 9 doctors and nurses to Tacloban, a wonderful shiver probably ran down her spine. I’m not for one second endorsing Mother Nature’s actions but, if Haiyan hadn’t been so cruel to the Philippines, we’d have never seen mankind pass its philanthropic tests with such flying colours.


social media and Evangeline Cua

Charity, and ‘aid’ is perhaps the most employable and notable advantages of social media in the face of human catastrophe. The ease with which one can send a message to hundreds, if not thousands of people means that, by the law of averages, social media has probably exponentially increased one’s chances of raising money for all sorts of causes. The cynic in me feels obliged to say that Mr Zuckerberg (the guy from The Social Network) could probably allay most of the financial worries of the Philippines without noticing any money had left his bank account, but there is no need for that right now. Basically, we did good by raising money and I hope we continue to do so.


Anyway, back to the Philippines. When it comes to the big, mean, nasty typhoon Haiyan, charity is the most basic function social media has taken on. What if I told you that social media can act as a sat-nav?


Well, obviously it can. Otherwise I wouldn’t have just said “what if I told you that social media can act as a sat-nav?” I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m kinda glad that, thanks to another disastrous storm that hit the Philippines last December, the Philippino government introduced their own Facebook site that sends out weather warnings and news about collapsed roads or likely monsoon weather. Not only is this pretty funky and damned resourceful, but people have taken these social media pages one step further into a “live feed” of disaster zones. Firstly, people in troubled areas (those that need food, water or first aid) send in photos and tweets of their specific area. Meanwhile, volunteers sift through these posts and work out which areas look like are in the most severe need of aid and then they set out on making sure this happens on a “most urgent” basis.


In this case we can see that social media is actually losing its ‘social’ label in the way we understand it. The ‘media’ bit sticks – Facebook and Twitter release news stories moments after news networks do but, because people tend to like Facebook more than BBC news, that’s where they hear the top headlines. Meanwhile, the ‘social’ label is skewed somewhat by the ways in which it is ‘social’. If you remember, I left a status on Facebook about finding forgotten money, sharing a highlight of my day whilst the storm hit the Philippines – that’s usually what we use social media for. Now, though, we can see a rise in the importance of social media to actually perform a societal role – it is partly responsible for how we deal with major events.


Just as a quick test, let me ask how you found out about the following news events. Answer with the news, social media, word of mouth, or other.

1)      Thatcher’s death

2)      Boston Marathon bombings

3)      Royal baby

4)      Horse-meat scandal

5)      Jimmy Saville scandal

6)      Typhoon Haiyan


I have a hunch that social media probably dominates this list as the primary source from which you discovered these news stories. From personal experience, I found out about two of these stories because of crude jokes left on social media (I’ll give you two guesses which ones they are). So my initial understanding of these news stories centred on individual response to their breaking as opposed to the ‘official’ route taken by major news networks or papers.


This is where I have to pick a bone with social media. The ease with which one can find these news stories means that it’s easy to avoid actually doing anything about them. This is where I become all “hoytee-toytee” and use my own term, “passive activism”, to try and communicate my issue with Facebook and Twitter (plus other smaller social networking sites like Tumblr).


Okay, so a massive disaster is taking place half-way across the world. People are dying and they are in desperate need of help. Your help. Fortunately, somebody has taken an iconic image of the event and has added the caption “people are dying in the Philippines. Share this photo and show your support for all the poor souls in trouble out there”. You’ll find them all over Facebook, I remember finding a couple for Cancer and Down’s Syndrome. I have also seen trending hashtags on Twitter such as “#stopdomesticabuse” and “#arealmandoesnthitawoman”. This is, and I hate to say it, nonsense and pathetic. Social media is doing a world of good for many people, but it also provides a get-out clause for many people who believe that ‘thinking’ about the disaster in the Philippines will help as much as £5 for first-aid. It is an unfortunate property of social media that meaningless actions are performed to gain respect from strangers and I feel it is necessary to point out that changing one’s profile picture for an hour does not equate to saving a child’s life. I would implore those who engage in these activities take the time to find a charity and do their bit in a way that really helps. I shall post a couple of links at the bottom of this article for those so inclined.


Back in the real world, where we don’t bother changing our profile pictures for an hour, because serious causes deserve serious attention and deliberation, Typhoon Haiyan has not finished destroying lives or homes. In the West, where we have more rational weather and significantly more money, I feel we have a responsibility to do our bit for those in need, whilst we applaud those closer to the area on their quick-wittedness and ability to facilitate the aid of those willing to give it. While government and military intervention take hold of the situation on a far grander scale than Facebook or Twitter ever could, we cannot trivialise the potential financial significance of a shared link here or a charity fundraiser there. Social media is here to stay people, so we may as well use it to the best of our human abilities.

If you would like to get a bit of an insight into the articles in which I found these cool things, check out these links.


And if you fancy making a donation to a charitable cause: here are two.

Thank you.

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