Abstract for: Intended and Unintended Consequences of Social Media in Humanitarian Operations

This study investigates the intended and unintended consequences of the use of social media to support humanitarian operations. It develops an in depth case study of the humanitarian response to the 2017 Kermanshah Earthquake, using causal loop diagramming to identify and explain the relationships between social media risks and operational implications. The study reveals multiple benefits associated with the use of social media to support humanitarian operations (e.g., needs assessment, mobilization of funds, efficiency improvement), but also risks detrimental to humanitarian response (e.g., unverified information, exaggerated needs, etc.) Inadequate use of social media can destabilize disaster response efforts by intensifying the time pressure on humanitarian actors, eroding public trust in their capability, and altering individuals’ donation behavior. These behaviors result in unintended consequences, some directly affecting the humanitarian response (e.g., diminished operational performance, increased coordination tension, and competition among actors), and others indirectly affecting beneficiaries through cascading effects (e.g., the emergence of diseases, and changing lifestyles). The research formulates propositions, and offers managerial implications for humanitarian practitioners and policy makers.