This weekend's story of how Nitesh Bhakta used Facebook to summon help, plus Facebook's addition of the panic button in the United Kingdom, really stimulates thought on how ubiquitous social networking is, and how much more readily people will communicate over these networks than the phone – in both good times and bad. Nothing beats the ability to hear someone's voice to assess what kind of trouble they're in but, as in Bhakta's scenario, there are times when you can only ask for help silently. And really, who are you going to text to call the police when a social network gives you a direct connect?
Facebook is ubiquitous enough to turn to in an emergency
Emergency services accessed from social networks, in the foreseeable future, will not outdo the good ole' dial in method. However, given how we're perpetually logged on, it would really make some sense if sites like Facebook and Twitter provided some sort of access to 911 (or 100 here in India). A lot of government agencies like the Delhi and Pune Police are already somewhat active on the social networks but it really wouldn't take a lot to supplement their phone lines with a computer and internet that brings in emergency needs. Assuming Facebook or Twitter program some kind of emergency system on their website to begin with.
One obvious argument to this proposal is that in most emergency scenarios, it is a lot easier to pick up your phone and call your local emergency service, especially because social networks require some sort of internet connection, be it Wifi, ethernet or GPRS. However, think about it this way, let's say you're traveling somewhere and you do have an emergency and you don't know what the local emergency service number is. How much easier would it be to open up Facebook on your phone, press a 'panic' button and your request goes to the nearest emergency dispatch (location data acquired by GPS). It's quite literally more stressfree.
The other almost unrefutable argument against this setup, especially in a country like ours, is the paucity of emergency services in the country. Ambulances are generally (keyword being generally) private and there's almost never a squadron of cop cars that can come immediately to a crime scene. However, also in our country, there are different phone numbers for different services, for example, the police station has one set of numbers and the fire station has another. Sometimes both services are required, sometimes paramedical help is required too. Facebook could provide us with '100'.
The bottom line is, phones are convenient, but so are the social networks. If emergency services on the social networks helps at least the one percent of emergency needs that are conveyed via the networks, it's not a facility gone to waste.