Twitter was an important tool in crisis of political nature, especially, in recent times, in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia. Now the social network has even proved useful in crisis of health. A study in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene showed that Twitter actually provided early evidence for an outbreak of cholera in Haiti in 2010. Twitter and other Internet sources of news were able to track the disease faster than health officials. The report’s lead author, Rumi Chunara, Ph.D, said, “We can definitely use these sources to get early information about how a disease is spreading, and consequently help inform control or response efforts sooner.” The tweets provided information that was only reported by health officials, until two weeks later.
The way the health officials tracked the outbreak was by searching for the hashtag #cholera on Twitter from the 20th of October till the 3rd of November, 2010. In that time, 65,728 posts were made on Twitter with the #cholera hashtag. They also used another site that monitors health issues around the world, HealthMap and 1,88,819 tweets from the site in the first 100 days after the outbreak.
Of course, social media provides its own problems with tracking crisis, such as this one, as even searching for a hashtag can sometimes not paint the entire picture. Cholera and related words need to be searched indepedent of a hashtag as well. However, given that using Twitter as it exists is actually helpful in such a situation, procedures to streamline the way tweets are posted in a crisis (for instance, more specific hashtags which are strictly followed when posting) should help in identifying people in the crisis and ways to help.