Big in... May 2014

Survival Tweets

#Lebanon #LatestBombing
More
James Walton

When Sandra Hassan created the I Am Alive app, her intention was mostly dark humor. A 26-year-old graduate student in Paris, Hassan had gotten sick of worrying about family and friends whenever she heard news of a suicide bombing in her hometown of Beirut. A detonation on January 21, in the same neighborhood where a car bomb had exploded just three weeks earlier, spurred her to action. In what she describes as an “expression of discontent,” Hassan developed an app that allows users, with one touch, to tweet a reassuring message to their followers: “I am still alive! #Lebanon #LatestBombing.”

The app quickly caught on: within a month, it was downloaded more than 5,000 times. In addition to cultural commentary, it has provided a much-needed service to people who live in areas targeted by terrorists—and to those who care about them. The moments following a suicide bombing are, after all, among the worst times to make a phone call. Networks jam. Getting sent to voice mail induces dread. “It’s the same cycle each time,” Hassan says. “You have to rush to your phone or Facebook or Twitter to try to make sure that everyone you know is okay. It’s a horrible feeling.” On the ground, the trilling of victims’ phones becomes an eerie score to the aftermath.

Hassan now offers hashtags for other countries and allows users to post their statuses to Facebook. She also realized that the app might help in all kinds of crises. To that end, she is working with the nonprofit L’Observatoire International des Crises (International Crisis Watch) to develop a version for use in situations from natural disasters to mass-transit accidents.*

In the meantime, Hassan says she’s gotten e-mails from many people who are using the app “in much more peaceful ways.” Members of one jet-setting family told her that they use it to let one another know when their planes have safely touched the ground.


This article originally stated that Hassan is working with International Crisis Group. We regret the error.

Jump to comments
Presented by

William Brennan is an associate editor at The Atlantic. He's also written for Slate and The New Yorker.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In