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Table of Contents
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 175-182

Attitudes of Saudis toward social media use during emergencies and disasters: A community-based study


1 Saudi Red Crescent, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
2 Department of Emergency Medicine, College of Medicine, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Date of Submission16-Aug-2020
Date of Decision10-Nov-2020
Date of Acceptance17-Nov-2020
Date of Web Publication13-Apr-2021

Correspondence Address:
Mashal Mnahi Al Shebani
Saudi Red Crescent, Riyadh
Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/jnsm.jnsm_98_20

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  Abstract 


Introduction: Social media is the most commonly used method of communication during emergency and disaster events. The prompt contribution of social media in emergency management has lately captured the imagination of governmental organizations and researchers. This study explores the attitudes of Saudis toward social media use during emergency and disaster events. Materials and Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted via an electronic questionnaire sent to all Saudis across all regions of Saudi Arabia. Data were collected using a valid self-administered questionnaire. The questionnaire solicited demographic details of survey participants and their attitudes toward social media, particularly regarding emergency and disaster events. Results: A total of 385 respondents were included in this study. Respondents reported that they used TV news channels (89%), followed by local radio (82%), online news (61%), and social media (43%). Most respondents used WhatsApp (61.0% always and 20.0% frequently). Significant differences in the general use of social media among participants from different age groups (P < 0.001), gender (P < 0.012), and education levels (P < 0.0001) were noted. About 35% of respondents used social media for information during emergencies and disasters. Of the participants who used social media in this context, 86% sought information regarding weather conditions or warnings/advisories. A majority of the participants indicated that the information extant on social media during emergencies and disasters is available more quickly and is more accessible when compared with other channels (86.4%, 77.6%). A majority of the participants exhibited a positive attitude toward the future use of social media for information on emergencies and disasters (81.8%, mean = 4.16). Approximately 57.7% of participants stated that they were unaware of Facebook Safety Checks, and 35% of them were unaware of Twitter Alerts. Conclusion: This study revealed that the attitudes of Saudis toward the use of social media either for general use or during emergencies were similar to those in other studies.

Keywords: Attitudes, crisis, disaster, Saudi Arabia, social media


How to cite this article:
Al Shebani MM, Khan AA. Attitudes of Saudis toward social media use during emergencies and disasters: A community-based study. J Nat Sci Med 2021;4:175-82

How to cite this URL:
Al Shebani MM, Khan AA. Attitudes of Saudis toward social media use during emergencies and disasters: A community-based study. J Nat Sci Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Jun 13];4:175-82. Available from: https://www.jnsmonline.org/text.asp?2021/4/2/175/313652




  Introduction Top


Natural and human-made disasters cause tragic impacts, suffering, death, and destruction of infrastructure and resources.[1] Developing standard emergency plans, making prompt decisions, and improving the performance of disaster response by using advanced technologies are some of the critical challenges currently facing many countries.[2],[3],[4] Adopting new disaster management tools and models is a way to address these challenges.

Social media plays a vital role in daily life. It is the most commonly used communication method during crisis periods using web-based technologies, for example, by sending short messages.[5] Social media can facilitate the spread of crucial information and enable communication between users.[6] Various social media platforms and applications, such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, are widely used for detecting and assessing disaster situations.[7]

Previous studies have documented the potential of social media to improve government operations.[8],[9] Its use during emergency response operations has received attention as well.[10],[11],[12] Furthermore, social media is useful during different phases of emergency management, notably in disaster preparedness, which might lead to a more organized community response.[13]

Social media is a new avenue of communication in the face of disasters. A significant difference between social media and traditional sources is the potential to receive feedback from the people affected, which can provide valuable insights and help with disaster management when the functioning of a community is otherwise disrupted because of infrastructural damage.[14],[15],[16] When social media supplements traditional forms of communication, it is easy to reach a larger population and provide vital information when a disaster occurs. Therefore, the government and the public gradually turn to these sources.[17] Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, enable disaster management institutions to communicate openly with the public.

The prompt contribution of social media in emergency management has sparked the interest of governmental organizations and researchers and has only grown in recent times. A better understanding among the general population regarding social media use during disasters would be useful for researchers and practitioners, offer a baseline assessment to identify the population trends of social media use during disasters, help coordinate response efforts, assist in rumor management, and aid in the correction of any misinformation. However, few studies have been carried out regarding social media despite its value.[18] A previous study reports that though some studies have assessed the attitudes of emergency services and citizens concerning the use of social media during emergencies, few studies have used representative samples to provide precise assessments and findings.[19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24] Social media has played an essential role in international pandemics that have occurred in the past 10 years. The H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, the Ebola epidemic, and the Zika outbreak all had a prominent and widely documented influence on social media conversations, as has the recent COVID-19 crisis, which has framed most of the conversations in 2020. It has also played a pivotal role in educating communities by providing information to the public; the updates on the spread of the coronavirus globally through a live map, which is updated every 2 min through YouTube, has helped authorities in making timely decisions. Another important role of social media is to bring the world together by highlighting the shared plight of individuals, exemplified by individuals in crisis sharing personal stories and documenting their daily lives in the face of this deadly disease, particularly those who were in highly isolated environments, such as that of the Diamond Princess cruise liner, infamously characterized as the coronavirus-infected ship.[25]

Saudi Arabia has the highest annual growth rate of social media users in the world. In Saudi Arabia, the number of social media users rose by 32% when compared with the worldwide average of 13%.[25] Moreover, emergency health readiness, activating a national center for emergency and health disaster management, and supporting regional centers are a critical component of the Healthy People 2030 vision, the national action plan for improving the health of all Saudis.[26] Therefore, this study is aimed to explore the current attitudes of Saudis toward social media use during emergency and disaster events.


  Materials and Methods Top


A cross-sectional study was carried out between July and December 2019. The study recruited participants through an electronic questionnaire sent to all Saudis across all regions of Saudi Arabia. The study was approved by the institutional review board at King Saud University Medical City, and electronic informed consents were obtained from study participants.

Data were collected using a valid self-administered questionnaire, which has been developed on the basis of previous studies conducted by Reuter et al., aimed at identifying the attitudes of citizens toward the use of social media and was conducted as part of the EU-funded project “EmerGent.”[19],[23] The questionnaire consisted of two sections: (i) the demographic details of survey participants, including age, gender, and educational level, and (ii) attitudes toward social media, especially in emergencies and disasters, which used a combination of closed questions using Likert scales (asking participants to rate on a scale of 1–5 how much they agree with a series of statements) and open-ended questions. Both of these sections had high reliability with Cronbach alpha scores, used to indicate the reliability of the scale, of α = 0.725 and α = 0.774, respectively. Moreover, some questions related to the use of social media during a disaster situation, such as the number of hours per day spent using social media, the applications the participants downloaded the most or used during the disaster, and the types of information searched for or shared during disaster situations.

The questionnaire was translated into Arabic and reviewed by experts in disaster management and research methodology. Two questions were deleted, and another two questions were modified as per the experts' comments. The pre-final version was piloted with 30 participants to ensure the clarity and readability of the questionnaire and appropriately modified according to their comments.

Sample size

The total population in Saudi Arabia was estimated at 20 million (i.e., 20,064,970) in 2018, as reported by the General Authority of Statistics Saudi Arabia. It was challenging to use stratified random sampling or cluster sampling methods because of the large number of areas. Therefore, the sampling technique used in this study was simple random sampling. Establishing a power of 80% at a 95% confidence interval and a margin of error of 5%, the required sample size is calculated as n = 385. The proportional size technique was used to calculate the sample of each area. All areas were included in the sample. The sample represented 13 areas in Saudi Arabia, and the distribution is shown in [Table 1]. It is important to note that the distribution reflects how skewed the participants' perspectives are on the research topic, where it is common in the survey world to stick to a 50% distribution unless previously determined, which is the most conservative. The sample was comprehensive and universal because it represented the population of Saudi nationals in Saudi Arabia.
Table 1: Sample size distribution

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Where n is the required sample size.

is the Chi-square for the specified confidence level; α, at 1 degrees of freedom

N is the population size

p is the population proportion, which is usually taken as 50%.

d is the margin of error.

Statistical analysis

Statistical analyses were conducted using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) 24.0 computer software for Windows (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). In the first step, basic univariate descriptive statistics were calculated for demographic variables to investigate sociodemographic factors and the use of social media during disasters. Second, we analyzed the 5-point Likert scale questions (asking participants to rate on a scale of 1–5 how much they agreed with a series of statements) based on factor analysis to examine participants' attitudes toward the general use of social media and its specific use in emergencies or in future. The items have the options (Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree) on an ordinal scale, and the numbers entered in the program are Strongly Agree = 5, Agree = 4, Neutral = 3, Disagree = 2, and Strongly Disagree = 1, which are then weighted, and based on which, the arithmetic mean (weighted average) is calculated. This is done by calculating the length of the interval first, which is the product of the division of 4 by 5, where 4 represents the number of distances (1–2 first distance, 2–3 s distance, 3–4 third distance, and 4 to 5 fourth distance), and 5 represents the number of choices. When dividing 4 by 5, the length of the interval is equal to 0.80. [Table 2] illustrates the possible results of each question based on the estimated weighted average.
Table 2: Weighted average interpretations of likert scale results

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Both of these sections had high reliability with Cronbach's alpha scores, used to indicate the reliability of the scale, of α = 0.706 and α = 0.725, respectively.

Third, the independent samples t-test and one-way Analysis of Variance were employed to examine the effects and the association between demographic characteristics and the use of social media to share information and to examine the effectiveness/satisfaction of using social media during disasters or crises. Statistical significance was considered when it was <0.05.


  Results Top


A total of 385 subjects responded to this study, and those individuals working as first emergency responders were excluded. The highest number of respondents were from Riyadh (n = 88) and in the age category 30–39 years (n = 195, 50.6%). Of the respondents, 281 (73%) were male, and a majority had a Bachelor's degree (n = 256, 65.5%). Approximately 58.2% of the respondents reported using social media 4–8 h daily, 26.0% (n = 100) of the respondents used social media 1–3 h daily, 12.2% used it 9–13 h daily (n = 47), and 3.6% used it 14–19 h (n = 14).

When respondents were asked about the extent of use of social media to share or look for information in their general life, most respondents reported regular use of WhatsApp (61.0% always and 20.0% frequently). Moreover, Twitter was considered the second most-used by respondents (35.6% always and 24.7% frequently). On average, respondents always use WhatsApp (mean = 4.32), frequently use Twitter and Snapchat (mean = 3.72 and 3.42, respectively), sometimes use Instagram (mean = 2.71), and never use Facebook (mean = 1.51) [Table 3].
Table 3: General use of social media

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There are significant differences in the general use of social media among participants by age groups (P < 0.001), gender (P < 0.012), and education levels (P < 0.0001). Females and more educated participants express a positive attitude toward the general use of social media.

[Table 4] illustrates participants' attitudes toward the use of social media during emergencies and disasters. Most participants agreed that the emergency services should use social media in emergencies to keep in touch with the public (81.8%, mean = 4.08). About 82% of the survey participants confirmed that most of their friends kept in touch by using social media (mean = 4.02), while 44.1% of the respondents regularly posted messages on social media (mean = 3.11). The majority of the survey participants reported that they would not necessarily trust posts on social media during emergencies (80.3%, mean = 4.17). In addition, more than half (58.2%, mean = 3.61) of the participants thought that emergency services should not trust information and news circulated on social media.
Table 4: Attitudes toward the use of social media in emergencies and disasters

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There is a statistically significant difference in the attitudes of the study participants toward the use of social media in emergencies in terms of education level (P < 0.004). Respondents with higher education levels had a more positive attitude toward the use of social media in emergencies.

Communication channels during emergencies and disasters

The survey participants had used various communication channels to obtain information during emergencies and disasters. Respondents reported that they had used TV news channels (89%), followed by local radio (82%), online news (61%), and social media (43%) [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Communication channels used in emergency

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Using social media when searching for information

About 35% of the respondents had used social media to find information during emergencies and disasters [Figure 2]. Moreover, no statistically significant differences were found between information searched for in social media in emergencies with respect to the respondents' gender, region, age group, or educational level (P = 0.267; 0.374; 0.806; 0.319), respectively.
Figure 2: Use of social media to find information in emergencies

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Among participants who had used social media during emergencies and disasters, the top four reasons for searching social media were to look for information about weather conditions or warnings (86%), road or traffic conditions (79%), damage caused by an incident (71%), and witness photos or videos (68%) [Figure 3].
Figure 3: Types of information

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A majority of the participants showed a positive attitude toward the future use of social media to seek out information in emergencies and disasters (81.8%, mean = 4.16). From [Figure 4], it seems that 42.1% of the participants stated that it was quite likely that they would use social media to search for information in emergencies in future, and 39.7% stated that they were very likely to do so.
Figure 4: Future use of social media to collect information in emergencies and disasters

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Using social media for sharing information during emergencies and disasters

More than two-thirds (67.3%) of the participants had used social media to share information during emergencies and disasters, while (24.4%) of them indicated that they had not used social media, with 8.3% not knowing or not being sure [Figure 5]. No statistically significant difference was found between participants in respect of gender (P = 0.631), region (P = 0.352), age group (P = 0.681), and educational level (P = 0.195) when they had shared information in social media in emergencies.
Figure 5: Use of social media for sharing information in emergencies and disasters

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[Figure 6] illustrates the types of information shared by them on social media during emergency and disaster events. About 72% of participants had shared information on social media regarding weather conditions or warnings/advisories, and 68% of them had uploaded eyewitness photos or videos.
Figure 6: Sharing information on social media regarding emergencies and disasters

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Similarly, 39.2% and 39.7% of the participants stated that they were either quite likely or very likely to share information on social media in emergencies and disasters in future, respectively [Figure 7].
Figure 7: Future use of social media to share information in emergencies and disasters

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Participants were also asked about their perspectives on why they intended to use social media as an information source. As shown in [Table 5], a majority of the participants indicated that information during emergencies and disasters was available faster (86.4%, strongly agreed with mean = 4.20) and was more accessible (77.6%, agreed with mean = 3.88) on social media than that on other channels. Meanwhile, 32.5% of participants disagreed with the statement that information available on social media was more accurate, and 36.6% disagreed that information on social media was more reliable.
Table 5: The use of social media as an information source during emergencies and disasters

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Prospects from emergency services

Participants were also invited to imagine that they had published an urgent request for assistance or information on certain local emergency apps that responded to emergencies, such as the local police, to examine their expectations from emergency services. Most respondents agreed that emergency service providers ought to monitor their social media apps or websites regularly so that they could respond quickly to requests (85% strongly agree with mean = 4.31) [Figure 8].
Figure 8: Expectations from social media emegency services

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Awareness about social media security alerts services

Participants demonstrated low awareness about safety options provided on Twitter and Facebook such as those related to security login and privacy settings. As shown in [Figure 9], about 57.7% of the participants stated that they were unaware of Facebook Safety Checks, while the corresponding percentage is 35% for Twitter Alerts. Moreover, 38% of them indicated that they were not aware of Twitter Alerts, and 28.1% of them were not aware of Facebook Safety Checks.
Figure 9: Safety awareness of social media

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Potential for using social media in the future

The researcher also asked participants to answer the question, “what makes you more likely to use social media to search for and share information in the future?” We received at least one answer from approximately each of the 320 participants. About 285 responses stated that they were more likely to use social media because they thought information was published widely on social media. Some of them answered “quick transfer of information in terms of attaching reliable videos to send event information to officials faster,” and “faster than TV and radio channels.”

Moreover, 185 respondents reported that they would use social media to search for and share information in the future as they needed to keep themselves and their surroundings safe. Many participants (48 responses) indicated the wide use of social media currently and presently for its user-friendly apps to find, access, and share information, and 32 respondents reported that they usually looked for a reliable source to find information on social media during emergencies.

Use of emergency smartphone apps

More than half of the participants stated that they had not downloaded smartphone apps for emergencies (53.8%), while 25.2% of them had downloaded at least one app. About 21.0% of them were not sure/did not know whether they had done so.


  Discussion Top


Nowadays, people across the world use social media widely. They might use it to look for and share information for general purposes or during emergencies. Therefore, there is an ongoing impetus to study people's attitudes toward the use of social media for either general use or in emergencies, and our study was conducted to explore the attitudes of Saudis toward the use of social media during emergencies.

The results of this study bear out the fact that most Saudis generally use social media in their lives. On average, 58.2% of participants reported using social media for 4–8 h per day. WhatsApp and Twitter are among the most-used platforms, which confirms the increasing trend, while Facebook is not widely used, which concurs with a study conducted by Mergel,[7] who showed that most people use social media, including Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook. This contradicted the Canadian Red Cross[27] study, in which 97% of the participants were Facebook users. It is also contrasted with the study of Reuter and Spielhofer,[23] in which 73% of participants were Facebook users, and with the study of Chandrashekar and Sampath,[28] in which 90% of participants were WhatsApp and Facebook users, where 75% of them reported benefiting from WhatsApp during floods and about 70% relied on Facebook.

This study indicated that the study participants had used social media to find and share information during emergencies and that most of them expressed interest in using social media during an emergency in the future but that only 25.2% of the participants had downloaded at least one emergency app.

This study showed that the participants had used social media to share information during emergencies and that 35% of them had used it to look for information in such cases. Weather conditions and road or traffic conditions were among the most popular topics to have been searched for by the participants. Meanwhile, weather conditions and uploaded eyewitness photos or videos were the most-shared information. In addition, many participants stated that they would use social media to seek out information during emergencies (81.8%) and share information (78.9%) in the future. Likewise, very few studies explored citizens' attitudes toward using social media during emergencies, including a study carried out by the Canadian Red Cross with >1000 participants,[21] and another study conducted by the American Red Cross with over 2000 participants reported that around one in ten of the general population used social media to find or share some information during emergencies.[22] A recent study conducted in 2017 by Reuter and Spielhofer involving 1034 EU citizens showed that about 43% of the participants used social media to search for information in an emergency.[23] Another study conducted in Germany by Reuter et al. in 2017 with 1069 citizens showed that almost 45% of the study participants used social media to look for and share information during an emergency but that only 16% had downloaded an emergency app.[24] The types of information searched for and shared were very close to a previous study as well.[27] Another study conducted in India found that a majority of the participants had searched on the topic of floods.[28]

Consistent with previous studies,[23],[27] the results of this study indicated that most people consider social media an information source because it is a more convenient and accessible tool than traditional media, such as TV news and radio channels.

Furthermore, the findings of this study revealed that Saudis' attitudes toward the use of social media for general use and during emergencies differed across different demographic dimensions. For instance, younger people, female participants, and more educated individuals maintained positive attitudes, and they were more likely to use social media to look for information for general purposes. These differences echoed those found by Reuter and Spielhofer.[23] Meanwhile, only more educated Saudis were more likely to use social media for information-sharing when compared with Saudis of other educational levels. However, all respondents exhibited their potential to use social media for information-sharing regardless of age group, gender, and region, where the differences are not significant, which is contradicted by the results obtained by Reuter and Spielhofer.[23]

In terms of participants' knowledge regarding security alerts provided by Twitter and Facebook, a majority of them did not know or had never heard about security alerts provided by both apps. In other words, their awareness about security alerts was quite low, at 14.3% about Facebook Safety Checks and 27% about Twitter Alerts. Saudis were less aware of these safety options than those of nationalities/regional groupings mentioned in the wider literature, including the study by Reuter and Spielhofer,[23] which was conducted in Europe.

Moreover, many participants stated that they had never downloaded an app specializing in emergency cases on their smartphones (53.8%), while 72.2% of them expressed their intention to download such an app in future, which is higher than the proportion of Europeans, as found in the study by Reuter and Spielhofer.[23] It should be noted that the most downloaded apps were those for weather forecasts and traffic and road conditions. This is probably because Saudi Arabia has faced various weather disasters such as floods and experienced several road accidents.

A high proportion of the participants expressed their expectations from the use of social media by emergency services providers. That is to say, 85% of Saudis thought that emergency services ought to monitor their social media pages or apps frequently. This proportion is greater than those found in European and Canadian studies, where 69% and 63% of respondents, respectively, stated that emergency services providers had to be well-prepared and ready to respond to emergency requests for help published on social media.[23],[27] On the other hand, a study conducted by Reuter et al. on emergency service staff across European countries revealed that few emergency services across Europe made frequent use of social media and that it was hardly ever used to receive information from the public. Only 4% of the participants indicated that they often received messages from the public through social media during a disaster, and 23% revealed that they often used social media to obtain more information about the situation during emergencies.[20]

This study will contribute to public awareness regarding gathering information from trustworthy sources to gain a more accurate picture of any disaster event. In addition, it offers a baseline assessment to identify key trends of social media use among Saudis during disasters, and it will help to coordinate response efforts and assist in rumor management and misinformation correction.

Future studies are needed in this field, which might benefit policymakers in terms of developing strategies for using social media in disseminating information during emergencies.

The main strength of the present study was that our results are likely representative of Saudis' attitudes toward social media use during emergencies and disasters.


  Conclusion Top


The present study revealed attitudes of Saudis toward social media use either in general or during emergencies that are similar to those revealed in other studies. This means that social media platforms have the potential to play an important role in people's lives and to inform decision-making, particularly for those concerned with emergency services. Therefore, the administrators of official social media platforms should monitor their posted information, particularly during disaster cases, properly. This, in turn, can lead to improvements in the use of social media in an appropriate manner, thus making users of social media platforms more confident about information posted on such platforms.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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    Figures

  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8], [Figure 9]
 
 
    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]



 

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