In 2001, when I was a small 3rd grader living in New Jersey, a tragic event happened, and two of the most iconic buildings in New York City fell. On the news we saw the planes hit and people fleeing the scene, trying to escape the falling rubble. I remember sitting at my house, waiting to hear if friends and family who worked in the city were safe, yet it felt like the calls took forever. Others also waited anxiously to hear from loved ones and for updates from any and all news channels covering the heartbreaking event. September 11th is solely one example of people waiting endlessly for updates as tragedies occurred. Although we can never fully prevent horrific events from occurring around us, one single aspect has changed that has lessened the anxiety and waiting games we used to play. Social media platforms have changed the way we encounter and follow what is happening around us, even when devastation hits.
One platform that has made a huge impact is Facebook. On October 16, 2014, Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of Safety Check. This feature is activated when a natural, or man-made, disaster occurs. The platform will find individuals who may be near the crisis and send them a notification. When the user check, they are prompted with the question: “Are you safe?” They can then pick either “I’m safe” or “I’m not in the area”. Facebook then tells your friends you are alright. In the event of a crisis, your friends and family will know that you are unharmed without having to individually text each person. The Safety Check feature has allowed people to notify large groups of people about their safety during a crisis with just the click of a button, eliminating the fear of not knowing if a loved or friend is in danger.
Another platform that has helped change the way we deal with tragic events is Twitter. As stated above, back in 2001, the only way to get updates about a crisis was by watching the news and talking to others about what was happening. Twitter has now become another resource we can use to keep informed about what happens around us, especially when tragedy strikes. For example, in 2013, right before Safety Check launched, the Boston Marathon Bombings took place. Students at BC, myself included, were terrified and had no idea what was happening downtown – only 5 miles away. However, Twitter allowed us to follow what was happening in real time. Similarly, when the police were in Watertown attempting to capture the bombers, Twitter helped my fellow students and I stay safe and receive frequent updates. Most importantly, we were able to find out exactly when they captured the horrible individual who had caused so much pain the day of the marathon.
Finally, social media platforms have helped after a crisis has already occurred. Through means of both Twitter and Facebook, individuals are able to help those effected by a tragedy. For example, people looking to hold fundraisers or organize relief groups can easily recruit others who are interested by posting on one of these platforms. A single tweet can instantly reach hundreds of thousands of people within seconds. These platforms also provide people with a place to connect and bond with others effected by similar events. Overall, social media platforms have helped lessen the stress involved in a disaster, even if just by a small margin, and have assisted communities heal after the events.