Twitter and the Traveler in Emergencies
Lately a few things have happened that have caused us to be more concerned about how to deal with emergencies while traveling in foreign countries. Letting family and friends back home know we are okay is one of those concerns.
Most people know Twitter as a social message sharing platform but it can fill other important roles. For those not familiar with Twitter it is used mostly for social networking, instant messaging and micro-blogging. Registered users can access Twitter through its website interface, through Short Message Service (SMS) or its mobile-device application software (“app”). Unregistered users can still read tweets by searching for a registered user or group.
There is an often overlooked place in an emergency situation for a Twitter account. If you recollect there have been some disasters and political upheavals recently where often what news did get out quickly came over Twitter. The technical reason for this can be found in the system Twitter employs for communication. Its foundation is in that protocol called Short Message Service (SMS). Often in an emergency voice communications both landline and cellular can get overloaded and fail. The same is true of the internet and cellular data systems. But SMS is a unique system designed to handle large amounts of short, simple text messages that by their very nature get through when other systems fail.
For this reason alone you should consider having a twitter account to use for emergency communications. The primary approach to accomplish this goal is to have family and friends use their accounts or have them setup Twitter accounts and make sure everyone follows everyone. In an emergency it is probably the quickest and easiest way to make notifications.
If you don’t like the idea of having your own Twitter account another approach is to setup a shared Twitter group account where everyone creates a user nickname to sign individual tweets. The process is pretty straight forward:
- Go to Twitter.com. In your web browser, enter https://www.twitter.com.
- Create an account for yourself or work with your group. On the homepage, enter your full name, email address, and preferred password on the given fields.
- Choose a Username for yourself or the group. Make sure the username reflects the group; keep it short and simple so everyone will remember it.
- Click on “Create My Account”
Keeping in touch with everyone, family, friends, work colleagues, becomes a priority during an emergency. If the land-line phones go dead and even your cell phone can’t make calls because everyone else is overloading the system, using text messages through Twitter can be a solution for those who need to inform friends and family online of current conditions and even needs. The great thing about Twitter is brevity. You still need to master important communications using just a few words, but Twitter could be the emergency information sharing option for you.
To make the best use of Twitter for emergency communications you need to develop some skills and follow a plan:
- Understand how you can send tweets to Twitter. You don’t need to be on a computer; you can send messages via your cell phone and its SMS/texting functions. You will need to enable the ability for your cell phone to receive Twitter updates via text message. Once done, this simply becomes one further method for you to add tweets, wherever you are.
- Establish an individual or group Twitter account. If you’re already a devotee of Twitter and have a group of followers with whom you regularly exchange tweets, you’ll be in the best position of all to make good use of an account in an emergency. Starting a group account is best for including users that generally haven’t made use of Twitter.
- Be comfortable with making tweets. The drill is 280 characters or less, including spaces and symbols. Once you’ve tried it enough times, you’ll master creating a meaningful message in few words. Make use of abbreviations to help compact content in the message. For example, “Road blkd SRS (serious) crash. I’m fine CUL8R (see you later) BFN (by for now)”
- Encourage friends and family to follow you on Twitter, so that they know they can find you on Twitter if you’re able to use it during an emergency. Encourage fellow workers to follow too. Twitter is a community and your message will spread often trying to find someone who respond respond and offer help.
- Tell friends, colleagues and family of your intentions to use Twitter in an emergency when the option is available. That will alert them to look on your Twitter feed if things happen and you could be involved. It will also help people alert authorities that you’re tweeting from an emergency.
- Don’t ever be afraid to use hashtags. Hashtags are keywords that people use to easily search for a specific word. In an emergency descriptive hashtags usually develop quickly.
If you really would prefer your main Twitter account to be left for specific friends, consider having a family Twitter account as well and use that during an emergency. Just be sure to remember which one you’re tweeting to – you may have to log out of one and into another.
It’s a good idea to set up Twitter on your cellphone using SMS.
Here’s how to Tweet via text message
If you add your mobile number to your Twitter account, you can tweet by sending a text message to a short or long code.
Sending a text message to any of these short or long code phone numbers will post your message as a Tweet to your Twitter profile (and it will be sent to all of your followers).
There are key differences however between using Twitter via short or long code:
Using a short code
Using Twitter by texting to a short code means you can perform actions and access content like you would via the web or a smart device.
When you use a short code with your Twitter account, you can post Tweets, receive notifications, and enroll in security features like login verification.
We currently support two-way Tweets (sending and receiving) via text message through short codes provided by our supported mobile carriers.
If you don’t yet have a Twitter account, read about how to sign up for a new Twitter account via text message.
If you already have a Twitter account and you want to start tweeting via text message, here’s how to get started:
SETTING UP short codes
Find your mobile carrier’s short code HERE. These are the short codes for the U.S. – 40404 Canada – 21212 Mexico – 6464
Text the word START or SIGNUP to your mobile carrier’s short code.
If your country and carrier are not listed as having a short code, it may be possible for you to post a Tweet using any Twitter long codes.
Use these designated Twitter commands to perform actions from your Twitter account
How to use a long code
About Twitter SMS commands
You can perform certain actions, like following a user or liking a friend’s Tweet, by using the designated Twitter commands below.
When using these commands, do not append an @ symbol along with the command text. If you send these commands with an @ symbol, your commands will be read as a username and will not be executed as expected.
Example: If you want to turn on device notifications, send only “ON” and not “@ON.”
Turning mobile Twitter updates OFF and ON
ON: turns ALL your authorized Twitter updates and notifications on.
OFF: turns ALL phone notifications off.
ON [username]: turns on notifications for a specific person on your phone. Example: ON anna
OFF [username]: turns off notifications for a specific person on your phone. Example: OFF sheeda
FOLLOW [username]: allows you to start following a specific user, as well as receive SMS notifications. Example: FOLLOW sheeda, or F sheeda, for short.
UNFOLLOW [username]: allows you to stop following someone specific.
STOP: stops notifications, deletes your follower list, and removes your phone number from Twitter.
QUIT, END, CANCEL, UNSUBSCRIBE, or ARRET: stops notifications. If you completed the sign-up flow on the web, sending any of these commands to your Twitter short code will remove your phone number from the Twitter account most recently linked to your number.
Long codes listed below are one-way only. You can send Tweets that will post to your profile (and be sent to your followers), but you will not be able to receive Tweets or other Twitter notifications to your phone through this channel.
Note: For these reasons, we do not recommend features such as login verification for long code users, as the experience may be less than optimal.
Subscribers do not have to be in their home country in order to use one of the long codes, however it should be noted that you may be charged international message rates when using these codes. It is advised that you consult your carrier.