Social media is a way to connect with people in a way we never could before the Internet existed. Information can be shared with millions around the world in seconds through multiple social media platforms. It has become a trend that during tragedy, more people have learned about a crisis for the first time through a tweet or a Facebook share rather than through a traditional TV news broadcast. This has led people to turn to social media first during a crisis to see breaking news. Here are some of the ways people can use social media as a way to grieve and cope after a tragic incident or deliver urgent information.
- Live tweeting. While news broadcasters can report live from the scene of a crisis, they can't capture the voices of the individuals. The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was one of the first major events where Twitter was utlized to prevent breaking news. Twitter allowed both journalists and individuals to warn people and report important updates to those in the area. Some of the attendees of the marathon used Twitter to report what was going on while it was happening.
- Facebook safety check. After a natural disaster or a violent attack, you may have received a notification on Facebook saying that your Facebook friend has marked themselves as safe. If you share your location with Facebook, and you are near an area where there is a crisis, they will send you a notification asking you to mark yourself as safe. There is also an option to ask someone if they are safe on Facebook. This way once you mark yourself as safe, all your Facebook friends will breath a little easier knowing that you are OK.
- Social media as a way to seek refuge during a crisis. Social media can also be used during a crisis when seeking safety. During the recent Manchester attack in May, the hashtag #RoomForManchester was created for safety seekers to follow. This was a way that those in danger could communicate with others through social media to find safety. It was also a way for unsupervised children to find out about people who opened up their homes and hotels for them to stay in until it was safe enough for them to be reunited with their parents.
- Support through Social Media. Not only is social media used as a news medium during a crisis but it is also used afterwards to spread support and condolences. It can be an outlet for affected individuals to share their stories, prayers, and grievances. After the terrorist attack in Paris, the hashtag #PrayForParis was created and a temporary Facebook profile picture option where Facebook users could add a translucent French flag to their profile picture was added.
The velocity at which information is shared through social media is immense and the new use of social media during tragedy is proof of that. The world has embraced social media for its multiple functions. Social media is no longer just a distraction but a major, active news distributor. While social media can't stop a tragic crisis from occurring, it clearly can help in more ways than one.
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