Crisis Mode

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.

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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.

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               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.

Sources:

http://www.oecd.org/governance/risk/The%20role%20of%20Social%20media%20in%20crisis%20preparedness,%20response%20and%20recovery.pdf

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-social-media-is-changing-disaster-response/

9 comments

  1. Great post! It’s been so interesting to witness how technology has changed the way that we get our news. Just like you, I grew up in NJ and was in elementary school during 9/11. I was a senior at BC during the Boston Marathon bombings, and my best friend from NJ happened to be visiting me that weekend. Talk about spooky. In the hours and days that followed, we’d sit on my bed in the Mods and watch CNN, hoping to see some real-time updates and good news. We quickly realized that Twitter was a far more reliable source than TV. This was so apparent during the manhunt across Watertown. We learned that the most accurate updates were coming from Boston area journalists, sharing their first-hand accounts on Twitter. This has stuck with me ever since, and I now have a greater trust in social media for updates in crisis times rather than television stations.

  2. Impactful post. This shows the positive power of social media. I believe Facebook safety check is one of the most impactful innovations that it gives to users. In times of horror, terror or chaos, it is important for loved ones, family, and friends to be able to know that a people are safe.

  3. vicmoriartybc · ·

    Really interesting topic for a post. As a native of New York City, I also remember the details of 9/11 like it was yesterday. I have often wondered the role social media, would have played if it were in existence on that day. I saw it on a smaller scale on October 29th, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit my hometown of Queens, NY. Afterwards, it was super unsettling to log on Facebook and see photos of homes of people I knew destroyed. It was different from any previous catastrophes that had hit the world, because in those cases, I had turned on the news to see such devastation, and it was usually involving strangers. This time, social media added a personal element to the events like nothing had before. Facebook hadn’t implemented its safety check yet, but if it had, I probably would have had to activate it. Hopefully, the safety check, while extremely important, doesn’t have to be used often in the future.

  4. Good post in showing how social media can have a social impact in our safety when a lot of times we here about how it is harming us. I actually have had the Facebook Safety Check notify me if friends were safe in situations this summer. Having the reassurance from a social platform is very important and further strengthens people’s trust in the platform and usage of it.

  5. jagpalsingh03 · ·

    Great post! I know that social media played a major role in how I got information and communication during Hurricane Sandy (and Hurricane Irene to an extent). Living so close to the shore, most of the relevant and up-to-date information I received pre and post storm was through Twitter and Facebook. I remember fire stations were tweeting about offering their outlets for people to charge their phones and local pizzerias would post whether or not they were open during the week after the storm, as some could operate without power. I also know that social media helped keep me sane during this crisis as it was the only form of entertainment I had. I think it’s great FB is aware of its power and is helping people stay safe. I other platforms follow as social media becomes more ubiquitous going forward.

  6. alinacasari · ·

    Great post! Communication through social media is a great way to send messages to friends quickly on our social networks. I know when FB safety checks first came out a lot of people were unsure what the point was. I remember some people thinking it was dumb or that it would be abused by users. However, my family lives in Paris and last year when the attacks happened (I was abroad and frequently at home during the semester) many of my friends told me how grateful they were for the safety check. I was asleep when the attacks happened and woke up to hundreds of notifications ranging from imessages, whatsapp messages, FB messages, tweets, snapchats, groupmes, etc. The quickest way to let everyone know I was okay was through the FB safety feature, and I was simultaneously able to ensure that all of my friends and family were also okay.

    I think social media platforms are really helpful for getting out messages to a lot of people at once. If you consider all of the people who I went to high school with, there was no way I could have quickly found out they were all okay. Because of Facebook’s safety feature, I was provided a list all at once telling me who was safe. I am so thankful for that feature, and I can’t imagine not having it now. Social media has really changed our reactions to disasters and improved communication no matter where you are in the world.

  7. bishopkh1 · ·

    Really great post. It’s unfortunate that we need features like this on social media, but it’s valuable to have during times of panic, especially like 9/11. I am from NJ too, and unfortunately my parents lost a few friends in the attacks. I think the feeling of waiting to hear from loved ones is horrible, and hopefully Facebook’s safety feature will help alleviate that.

  8. Social media tends to be the first place that I turn for information when a crisis hits. Often, I feel that what I read on Twitter, Facebook, and other sources is the most accurate and up-to-date source for information. Often times news agencies are turning to these same channels for updates.

    I have also seen Apple getting into this same space. I now receive Amber Alerts on my phone and they are queued to my location.

    Finally, you have made me feel very old. I was a freshman in college on 9/11 :o)

  9. Good post! believe that this is one of the truly good faces of social media. I have experienced Facebook Check with a friend in the Paris Attacks. It looks like something small, but it gives Facebook another use, this one being a critical one in this kind of situations. It gives another small piece of importance to Facebook, making a bit harder to leave the social network.

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