i3, une unité mixte de recherche CNRS (UMR 9217)

Institut Interdisciplinaire de l'Innovation

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Covid-19 and social networks, an article by Caroline Rizza
Posted on 18 October 2020

As part of my research work on the contribution of digital technology in crisis management and in particular on the digital skills of the actors of a crisis (institutions or citizens), I had the opportunity to carry out an observation during the Covid-19 health crisis from 9 to 23 April 2020 within the Fire and Rescue Service (SDIS) of Gard located in Nîmes.

This immersive investigation allowed me to refine my research hypotheses on the key role that citizen initiatives can play during a crisis. And this, whether they are born in the common public or virtual space.

Media Enables Immediate Citizen Action

Crises described as "civil security" are often characterized by rapid kinetics (rise in "crisis peak" and return to "normal"), uncertainties, tensions, victims, witnesses?

The scientific literature in the field has highlighted the presence and simultaneous manifestation of citizen initiatives in response to the crisis: during an earthquake or flood, the first people to come to the aid of the victims are the citizens on the spot; during the recovery phase, it is very often the local citizens who organize themselves to clean up and rebuild.

For example, during the Nice bombings in July 2016, cabs immediately organized to evacuate people present on the Promenade des Anglais; a few months earlier, during the Bataclan bombings in 2015, Parisians opened their doors to welcome those who could not return to their homes and used the hashtag #parisportesouvertes; Genoa in 1976 and in 2011, having experienced two flash floods of exceptional violence, twice saw its young city dwellers volunteer to clean the streets and help shopkeepers and residents for days on end.

The arrival of social media in daily life has enriched this panel of initiatives by allowing them to manifest and organize themselves online to complement the actions that usually and spontaneously arise in the field.

In the field of "Crisis Informatics", my work focuses on these citizen initiatives emerging and organized on social media and the challenges of their integration in crisis management: what types of initiatives are these? What mechanisms support them? How do they disrupt crisis management? Why integrate them into the crisis response?

Social media as a communication and organizational infrastructure

Since 2018 I have been coordinating the ANR MACIV project (Managing citizens and volunteers: the contribution of social media in crisis situations) in which we are working on the completeness of the challenges associated with social media in crisis management: technological challenge, through the tools allowing an automated feedback of information needed by institutional actors; institutional challenge, through the status of information from social media and its integration in the field; citizen challenge, both through the mechanisms of creation and circulation of information on social media and through the integration of citizen initiatives in the response to the crisis.

It is common to represent social media as an infrastructure that allows, on the one hand, institutions (ministries, prefectures, municipalities, fire and rescue services) to communicate with citizens from top to bottom ("top-down") and, on the other hand, to improve the state of the event by a bottom-up feedback of citizen information.

The literature in the field of "crisis informatics" has highlighted the changes brought about by social media and how citizens have used them to progressively communicate about an event, inform, and organize themselves to help.

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