The Role Social Media Amidst a Catastrophe

First off, I would like to say that my prayers are with the people of Paris and France during these horrific times. In wake of the attacks that occurred in Paris, people from all different countries took to social media for timely and accurate information. I am going to examine the roles Facebook and Twitter played in spreading information in the midst of chaos.


Facebook used their safety check tool to let family members and friends from around the world know their loved ones in Paris were safe. Although this tool has been activated 5 times in the last year for natural disasters, this was the first time Facebook activated this tool for this type of event. In a time of crisis, Facebook has become a place where people are sharing information and looking to find out information pertaining to their loved ones. On Saturday, Facebook reported over 4 million people used this feature to let friends and loved ones know they were safe. About 360 million people around the world received a notification from one of the 4 million people.

Facebook's Safety Check feature

Facebook’s Safety Check feature

Facebook also provided a profile picture frame available globally for users to show support for France and the people of Paris. This frame can be paired with ones existing profile picture to create a temporary or permanent picture. This frame is simple and easy to apply, and an outstanding number of users are adopting this frame to show support.


Lastly, Facebook is allowing people to share their stories and experiences in Paris across the world. One example, a lady by the name of Isobel Bowdery, posted a picture of her bloody vest on Facebook accompanied by her survival story. These stories give people from all around the world the ability to hear first-hand experiences of these horrific events. News reports can be confusing and misleading, but survivor stories give a more personal accounts that describe the atrocities that took place. Isobel’s story can be found here, but be aware her story contains graphic content.


Twitter used the new moments feature to release recent news about the attacks and share supportive tweets from celebrities. Additionally, many hashtags were used to create an information flow that helped bring people to safety. #PorteOuverte, which means “Open the door,” was used to provide shelter to those in Paris who needed a safe place to go. According to Twitter, there were 1 million tweets with the #PorteOuverte tag in 10 hours. Along with strangers opening up their homes, cab drivers offered free rides to people due to the lack of public transportation.

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Tweet from Twitter's Chief Executive with a link to a moment's collection

Tweet from Twitter’s Chief Executive with a link to a moment’s collection

The hashtag #prayforparis allowed people from all around the world to come together and support the people of France. This hashtag received over 6 million hits in a 10 hour period.  The hashtag #RechercheParis contained descriptions of loved ones as well as requests for information. It also provided updates when someone is found alive. This hashtag had one million hits in 24 hours. Finally, #unebougiepourparis (a candle for Paris) provided support in a time of darkness. Twitter helped formed communities between people in search of family members, shelters, or hope.





France’s justice ministry and its national police force used Twitter on Friday to issue advice and information via social media. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and also used Twitter to send a message to his country’s people saying, “Facing terror, there is a nation that knows how to defend, able to mobilize its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists.” Twitter allows the president to send a message to the people of France while the attacks are happening without having to jeopardize his safety.

Social media plays a crucial role in providing safety and support for people affected by the attacks, and allows information to travel quickly around the world. Social media will continue to play a crucial role in learning more about the attacks as people can share new and relevant information from their experiences.


  1. Hunter I am really glad you decided to do your post about the horrific situation that happen in France. I had to post this week too, and felt really bad about talking about a different thing that what have happen in the world in the past days. I think is really interesting to see how technology and specially social media can help us in moments like this. Some people say social media is horrible, but I think is an amazing tool we have to make changes in the world, and help people. I have never seeing the Facebook feature “safety check”, I think is a great way to know if your friends are ok. I have some friends in paris that I haven’t talk to them in a while, but knowing through this feature that they are ok, made me feel so much better. The first thing I thought about this feature, is how time has passed, and how fortunate we are that we don’t have to spend hours knowing that people are safe, but know just with the click of a bottom we can be calm about the live of our love ones.
    Before your blog I read the story from Isobel, and i think its really powerful to have that type of inside about what happen to one of the survivors because she decided to post it on social media. It makes people feel more closer to what happen to the victims.

  2. Hunter, thanks for a nice post detailing the positive side of the role played by social media in this horrible attack on humanity. This was the first time I was on Twitter when a catastrophe unfolded, and I soon realized the power behind the different features and uses of hashtags. I really loved that FB rose to the occasion and turned on its safety check feature, and they said today or yesterday that they will from now on enable it for any kind of disaster, be it natural or human.
    Of course, there is also the dark side that was brought out on social media by awful pundits and talking-heads who misappropriated the events in Paris for their own causes. I got furious when I started seeing tweets by Trump and similar cretins making their point against immigration or pro guns and so forth.These are the kind of moments where I feel twitter etc. should hire thousands more to monitor tweets and take inappropriate ones like those off the feed and let the world focus on grieving, healing, and finding solutions to this crisis. Thanks for taking on such a heavy topic.

  3. I agree that social media will be providing the fastest resources during times of crisis like this past weekend’s tragedy in Paris. That being said, there are definitely some loose ends that need to be tied within the next year or few years to make sure there can be some sort of filter for accuracy. For instance, Twitter and Facebook could have a department in charge of fact checking and publishing information by the hour of updated news and reports to their users.

  4. This was the first time I really never used traditional media for information, but was notified and followed events as they unfolded on social media. I must say that it was incredible how fast reaction spread. I was unaware of the Facebook safety notifications, that’s pretty useful, and will help reduce the panic that others may have for loved ones closer to the crisis. That being said, now that France and Russia have now increased their offensives against those responsible for the attacks, I fear this will only get worse before it gets any better. I agree with Minh-Y-Tran that there are definitely loose ends that can potentially undermine the value of social media reporting of such events, but we are now so accustomed to the immediate access to information, such loose ends may be inevitable to keep the speed of such information flowing.

  5. Great post, I’m really glad you decided to cover the horrific and recent events in Paris which have had the domino effect of alarming other countries on behalf of their safety. I agree that both social media platforms have created an open door where individuals can share their stories, offer support, and collectively work towards a better tomorrow. Specifically I found Facebook’s safety check a useful application as it comes to show how essential social media is integrated into our lives that people are turning to Facebook to alert others of their whereabouts. In times of crisis such as these, social media has lent itself as a crucial forum of communication and support.

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