The role of social media and the internet in the Victorian Bushfires

As Victoria woke this morning, the bushfire news continued to get worse. The official death toll for the bushfires now stands at 108 (at the time of writing) and is expected to rise further today. Fires are still threatening homes, water and power supplies, and despite cooler weather and some rain yesterday, dozens of fires remain out of control.

Social media and the internet, perhaps for the first time in a large way in Australia, played a big role in how the latest news from the front was spread, comparable perhaps only to radio. Broadcast television here completely failed yesterday, with stations really only picking up the news last night once they realized how bad it was, and while some newspapers online have kept relatively up-to-date, there has usually be a delay between the news breaking, and it being posted.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, but Victoria bushfire related tags were among the top trending topics on Twitter Sunday Australian time. The Australian twitter community, particularly in Victoria have been quick in sharing the latest news, where to make donations, and all other relevant information. Surprisingly perhaps, that some of the best efforts on Twitter came from a broadcast radio station.

ABC Local Radio Melbourne has provided the latest news from the event nearly as quickly as it was broadcast on air (and ABC Radio has led in terms of the latest information). I don’t know who’s running the account, but they deserve universal praise.

Not an official CFA (Country Fire Authority) account, but a user pulling data from the CFA site, including latest fire warnings, closures, and vital information. Double value given that the CFA site itself failed repeatedly yesterday under a volume of traffic. The account also links to breaking news on other sites.

The Twitter account for Channel 7’s breakfast program was a little late in getting involved, but has been filling in some of the gaps missed by the ABC. Interesting to see a television program attempt to use Twitter in this way, even if most of their tweets linked back to their own content.

Google Maps mashups

Both News Ltd (Herald Sun/ and Fairfax (The Age) added Google Maps mashups for fire locations and reported deaths Sunday.

Here’s the Fairfax mashup, which like all Google Maps can be embedded as well