OK, I just have to point this out. We seem to be experiencing a mini moral panic, because two girls trapped in a drain called for help on Facebook instead of dialing 000. Now, I have kids and I would want them to dial 000 in that situation. But I’d also want them to try facebook, twitter, or whatever other social networks they were connected to.
Because in this instance, remember, Facebook worked. According to the article someone who read the status called 000 and the emergency services responded. The concern is that relaying the message caused a delay. That’s legitimate, and it’s why I think calling 000 as well is a very good idea. But there’s another side: relaying the message through the social network adds a layer of robustness. If 000 had not responded then the social network would have mobilised other help; the people connected to those girls would have saved them.
And sometimes the official channels do fail. For example, our emergency dispatch services in Australia rely on automated systems that demand a street address. In situations where that’s not available the system can break down, as it did for David Iredale, who called 000 seven times when lost in the Blue Mountains in December 2006, and clearly explained that he was on the “Mt Solitary walking track heading towards the Kedumba River”, but tragically died after being dismissed by operators because he could not provide a street address.
Street addresses are not a perfect system; friends can work around that but centralised institutions have trouble with it. I once lived on Sutherland Avenue, one block down from Sutherland Street and not very well signposted. Taxis would ignore the instruction to come to “Sutherland Avenue, NOT SUTHERLAND STREET” every. single. time. And yes, ambulances too.
In extremis I’d want my friends to know I needed help, not just an “ambulance triple-0 centre […] hopelessly inflexible and staffed by civilians forced to work 12-hour shifts without sufficient breaks“. The emergency services do save a lot of people, and clearly they’re working very hard to do so. However it seems this is in spite of inefficient systems, rather than because of efficient ones.
And sometimes, in some places calling the emergency services isn’t an option. As for James Buck, whose single-word tweet of “Arrested” alerted his network of friends to spring him from political arrest in Egypt. We are lucky in Australia to have our police working for us, at least most of the time.
So let’s not decry the fact that these girls reached out to their connected community directly for help, instead of thinking first of the crucial but overburdened and overcentralised triple-0 service. Let’s recognise that new ways of doing things have their own strengths, and that hyperconnected ten and twelve-year-olds might have something to teach us.