Here in Kenya we’re just from the darkest moment in our nation’s history since the 1998 terror attacks. The Westgate terror attack over the weekend left each one of us saddened and contemplating on the state of our nation’s security. On the other hand, it is the Westgate attack that made us realize just how crucial social media can be in relaying crucial life-saving information in real time in times of crisis or an emergency. The government was able to rally the citizens to support the soldiers on the ground battling the terrorists, it was also able to pass information to the citizenry. For the traditional media social media became a platform for sharing real time updates on casualties and the like while voluntary organizations like the Kenya Red Cross used it to urge Kenyans to donate blood for the victims. Telecommunication service provider Safaricom even used social media to rally Kenyans to contribute money through its mobile transfer service M-PESA to go towards aiding the Kenyans affected by the attack. Social media and in this case Twitter plays a big role in times of emergencies. It can save lives. To further enhance this, Twitter has out Twitter Alerts, a new system that allows Twitter users to subscribe to certain channels/accounts’ emergency alerts.
…Twitter Alerts, a new feature that brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information from credible organizations during emergencies, natural disasters or moments when other communications services aren’t accessible.
Here is how it works: there will be organizations that are already incorporated into the program and that will have the option for users to turn on alerts so that they can be notified every time the account’s operators mark a certain tweet as being an alert. For example if the Kenya Red Cross is part of the Alerts program, I can subscribe to its alerts by going to twitter.com/KenyaRedCross/alerts. Since Kenya Red Cross is followed by very many Kenyans and is likely to be among the first to be notified if there is an emergency, all that the person running Kenya Red Cross’ Twitter account has to do is mark a tweet (just like ‘favouriting’ a tweet) to KRC informing it of an emergency as an alert and all subscribers, like me, will get it as a mobile notification on their devices. Alerts will be sent via SMS automatically and if you are using any of Twitter’s official apps on Android and iOS then you’ll also get a push notification. On the home timeline, the alerts will appear next to a symbol of a bell.
The new service is rolling out at first in select countries like Japan, Korea and the US where Twitter has already partnered with some organizations to get Alerts off the ground. I hope this comes to Kenya soon.