Twitter to the rescue

Prior to the eruption in January 2020, the crater of Taal volcano—Volcano Island—looked like a mysterious jungle scene out of a Jurassic Park movie. Along the edges of the island, you could see the farmland and signs of human habitation. Farther up the jagged crater, there was lush and deep vegetation where a roaming prehistoric beast might not be unexpected.

Today the island is a beige bleached desert more suitable to a Martian landscape. From a distance, it is as if not a single blade of grass survived. While the ability of nature to survive and thrive is remarkable, it will take years before Taal looks again like it did before the most recent eruption.

The latest major volcanic eruption is occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the Nyiragongo volcano sent thousands into evacuation from the eastern city of Goma, population 670,000. The volcano is about 20 kilometers north of the city.

Nyiragongo erupted in 2002 with about 250 people dying in the eruption from asphyxiation by carbon dioxide and buildings collapsing due to lava and earthquakes. In a May 10 report, the Goma Volcanology Observatory warned that seismic activity around the volcano had increased.

In the late evening of May 22, even before the official announcement, thousands of people had started filling the streets and carrying what they could as they headed out of the city. Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya tweeted: “The evacuation plan for the city of #Goma has been activated.” Twitter to the rescue.

How often have you heard someone say something like “We were fine before Smartphones and the Internet”? And where do they make that sentiment most heard? Twitter. To talk about “Life before Smartphones” is the same as talking about life before electricity, penicillin, and motorized transportation. This is the reality. Surviving is fine. Thriving and prospering, however, is better.

It all started in 1996 by an Israeli company named Mirabilis. The name ICQ derives from the English phrase “I Seek You” and was one of the first text-based messengers to reach a wide range of users. ICQ was an advancement of Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which was primarily designed for group discussions not unlike Zoom. Now there is Twitter and WeChat and many other similar services.

The number of mobile connections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in January 2020 was equivalent to 40 percent of the total population. Only 8.6 percent of the population is hooked to the Internet. Yet Twitter was the fastest way to spread the official word.

Philippine Smartphone penetration in 2021 is 68 percent, with Internet user penetration at 74 percent.

The official twitter account of the Office of Civil Defense is @civildefensePH. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Tweets from @NDRRMC_OpCen. Constant updates on weather, earthquakes and volcanic activity are relayed through @dost_pagasa (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology by following @phivolcs_dost.

Social media can be destructive both to individuals and institutions alike. It violates all of the “The 4-Way Test” of Rotary International: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

But never before in human history has there been a way to instantly provide written communication to hundreds of thousands of people. Life is better with smartphones and the Internet.


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