KUNMING, China - Social networks are playing a crucial role in the earthquake rescue operation as victims use blog posts to summon help and organizers stay in touch with frontline commanders over the Internet.
"Posts asking for help are an effective way to let us know what residents urgently need," said Zhang Li, who is coordinating rescue efforts by firefighters in the disaster zone at Ludian county, Zhaotong, Yunnan province.
The firefighters' headquarters in Kunming, the provincial capital, launched a micro-blogging service on Monday. So far it has received 58 posts asking for help from people in the epicenter, Longtoushan township, including 27 that came via the Sina Weibo platform.
"We have sent firefighters in the disaster area to provide aid to those seeking help as quickly as possible," said Zhang.
"It's also a useful way for us to communicate with commanders at the quake frontline.
"If residents need to be rescued or find others in need of help they can go online and forward messages to our verified micro blog accounts."
Mao Taotao, from Sina Weibo, said the company has responded to the emergency by encouraging users to pass on requests for help.
"The more times such a post is forwarded the more people will get to know about it, and the better the assistance residents in the disaster areas will get," he said.
By Tuesday, information about the earthquake had been read 970 million times and discussed 835,000 times - double the figures on Monday - according to Sina Weibo.
Some government micro-blogging accounts, such as one run by Zhaotong city's publicity department, are being used to share information about the rescue operation with the public.
In addition, 21 appeals for funds to help victims have been launched on Sina Weibo, and so far two million yuan (S$405,000) has been donated, Mao said.
Cheng Manli, a media professor at Peking University, said social networks enabled rescue organizers to know what people in the quake zone really need and provide better assistance.
"People in the epicenter, including reporters and survivors, can post information about people in need of help along with pictures, figures and accurate locations," she said.
"Netizens can also provide useful advice or help to identify which rescuers are closest to those seeking help.
"In addition social networks provide a quick information channel for rescuers and help them to work more effectively."