Social Media and Disaster

I’ve been struggling with how to begin this post. The world is reeling in the wake of several disasters that happened on Friday the 13th. There were large earthquakes in Mexico and Japan, and suicide bombings in Beruit, Bagdhad, and in Paris. Additionally, gunmen stormed into a concert hall in Paris and opened fire there during a concert on Friday night.

Social media has the ability to both be good and bad in a disaster.

The Good:

  1. Social media keeps us connected. I had friends visiting Paris on Friday, and I have many past and present students from there. I was grateful to see from Facebook that they were all safe and accounted for. Facebook implemented an emergency “check in,” allowing people to declare that they were safe so family and friends could see it.
  2. Social media helps to deliver help to those that need it at the time they need it most. Very quickly on Twitter, the hashtag #PorteOuverte began circulating. Those who needed a safe space to go to were using it, and those that had a safe space were also using it. It’s these times when we see the best from people, as they selflessly open their doors and hearts to others who are in immediate need. AirBnB, who is hosting a conference in Paris, also asked its Paris members to open their BnB to those affected by the disaster for free.

The Bad:

  1. Social media does contribute to a “herd” mentality. There are times when this is a positive thing, like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. But there are also times when it’s a negative. There were a lot of stories coming out of Paris Friday night that were then being picked up and repeated and amplified by social media that simply weren’t true. It’s a good reminder to all of us to think before we post.
  2. Businesses who try to capitalize on tragedy. If you are running a business, be really, really careful about what you post on social media with regards to that tragedy. It’s important to be incredibly respectful, and do not, in any way, make it look like you might profit in some way from the tragedy.

Those are points that are clear to me. What’s not clear to me is what I should post myself. I’ve never been to Paris, though it is high on my bucket list of places I want to go to. Still, Paris is an amazing city–you don’t have to have been there to know that! And for people to have been simply out–as you or I would be on a Friday night–taking in a concert, and to be massacred in that way… it hit home hard.

I feel like the grey area of social media is how do we react to it, and what does that reaction look like online? I must have typed out about 5 different status updates about the tragedy on Friday night, but I deleted them all with out posting. It’s not that I wasn’t thinking about the people of Paris, I just didn’t know how to express what was going on with me in a way that was respectful. I know I talk all the time about what a brave new world social media is, how we’re all just making up the rules as we go along, but when something like this comes along, I feel particularly stumped. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about me. And so much of social media is focused on the self.

Ultimately, it’s a journey that each of us have to take, and how I react online is going to be different than how you react, and neither of them is wrong. As we collectively deal with our grief and process through it, no doubt social media will be a part of that. But sometimes asking the questions is as important as finding the answers.


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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 1

  1. Some really good points. I would argue that not only can social media have the affects mentioned but it can be of even greater consequence as militant groups learn how to use it in the realm of warfare. I’m wary, and yet like so many others are still trying to figure out how to responsibly use it.

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