Social media taking hurricane relief by storm

This past weekend, I stopped home for Sunday night dinner and it happened to turn into a bit of a family reunion, with the addition of my sister’s boyfriend, and my brother’s girlfriend and her family. My mother, of course, cherishes these moments and points out that our family has not spent time all together since before the summer, in her classic slightly dramatic, but nonetheless thankful tone.

Typically, these little reunions are a joyful time of eating, drinking, and being merry, but this time, the sentiment was different. You see, my brother’s girlfriend’s family is from Puerto Rico and many of their family members are still living there. Since Hurricane Maria swept through last week, causing an unimaginable amount of destruction to the island, her family had been out of contact with each other. Everyone was anxious, because the only information we all had received was from media coverage and social media.

Fortunately enough, the phone rang early in the evening and my brother’s girlfriend and parents were able to speak to her family.  It was an emotional connection, but we found out that the two families living in Puerto Rico were okay, and finally found out that each other were safe. Finally hearing from a trusted primary source of the realities in Puerto Rico had us all considering the accuracy (or inaccuracies) of what we had heard and seen on social media.

Hurricane Maria absolutely devastated the island of Puerto Rico, in addition to wreaking havoc in surrounding areas in the Caribbean early last week. There is no power and limited running water, yet social media is still playing a role in how we are able to gather and spread information on these events.

I have seen photos and videos of the island from news sources and locals, but even as quickly as a week after, these posts, especially from traditional media sources are fewer and fewer.  Some people are posting, appearing to make the most of the situation, drinking in the street or joking around.  In reality, there are food rations at grocery stores and a curfew, forcing all residents inside at 7PM each evening. There has been ransacking going on, as some are taking advantage of the awful situation in the most despicable way. Social media, by nature, allows people to post whatever they want, and the current situation in Puerto Rico is just one example of how the truth can be smeared.

On the other side, social media has been a powerful tool in connecting people throughout these trying times. Many Puerto Ricans living in the continental US have capitalized on potential of social media and have been working to raise awareness and funding for the island. There truly is power in numbers, showing in the sheer amount of people who have been reached through these campaigns.

Many have been critical on social media of President Trump’s reaction and words regarding Puerto Rico, while many others have been using social media to take action and make a difference.

One of the most amazing examples of this I have seen has been the Students with Puerto Rico movement. The group is comprised of students and others from across the country and their gofundme page has already raised almost $100,000 in the past 5 days to go directly to relief efforts.

Jimmy Fallon donated $20k directly through this page, which goes to show its reach.

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 Through using social media, it is easier than ever to find a trustworthy cause to support.

 When people you know are involved in, founding, or advocating for these groups, it brings peace of mind in terms of knowing you are supporting a worthwhile cause.

Every major social media source is acting as a platform for people to connect, discuss, and take action.

Several other individuals with larger platforms of influence are doing what they can to help, too. Jennifer Lopez has used her power to not only donate money, but to spark a strong movement to find solutions in rebuilding Puerto Rico.  She, along with Mark Cuban, Alex Rodriguez, and Marc Anthony are using their platforms to make this relief effort go viral.  One of the greatest strengths of social media is its speed.  Even funds or movements that start small have the power to grow very quickly to become quite substantial.

I have heard of many stories are the residents of Puerto Rico being there for each other in these dark times.  It is reassuring that those outside the island are also caring, spreading the word, and growing relief funds, using the power of social media for good.

 

9 comments

  1. This reminds me of viral fundraising like the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s amazing seeing everyone come together for a common cause. There’s so much hate in the world these days that it’s so important to remember the good in others and your post is a perfect example of that. Ellen is another public figure that has done wonders for people and changing the world from unfortunate situations to ones that have hope. I mentioned this in my first post how social media can actually be a good thing, and I’m glad it’s continuing to be.

  2. Great timely post! Way to pick up on such a cutting edge issue and bring some more insight to it for us. Nice work!

  3. Thanks for sharing. I have a few friends down in Puerto Rico as well and social media definitely made it easier to make sure all of them were doing well, either through messenger (cellular networks were down) or through the “Marked him/herself as safe” feature. There is no doubt that raising funds to provide affected communities with basic necessities in the event of a natural disaster has become more convenient. A couple of friends and I also fully took advantage of social media to raise funds last year when Peru suffered it’s worst flood in history earlier this year. However, I think the most incredible thing that social media was able to achieve in those moments of crisis was to organize actual service trips to the affected areas and convince people to go. The people who went to manually help re-build the roads and bridges made the biggest difference for the those communities affected. While it may still not have been enough, Peru saw more helping hands fly in to help than ever before, thanks to social media.

  4. I’m glad your brother’s girlfriend’s family is safe and hopefully doing better. That fundraiser is a heartwarming story, and it’s really nice to see how people use social media to make lemonade out of lemons. This also reminds me of my first blog post (shameless plug: https://isys6621.com/2017/09/10/social-media-and-the-power-to-do-good/) where I wrote about my brother’s online fundraiser in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Great post!

  5. Another example of social media having the ability to do good! “There truly is power in numbers”; yes, that is the key to being able to make a difference on social media. Although donations like Jimmy Fallon are great, the strength of social media fundraising comes from its ability to be seen by so many people whose individual contributions are small but, when added together, are great.

  6. I think this might be one of the few social media trends that I am completely on board with. Using it as a way to raise awareness to help out those who are less fortunate. I realized that I got on board with this when JJ Watt used his fame to raise money for the victims in Houston. I do not like JJ Watt to say the least, between his posts of workouts and how he acts on social media; but his attempt to help others really changed my opinion of him. I think he raised 20-30 million and I do not think that this would have ever been possible with out the help of social media.

  7. I totally agree that social media can sensationalize, distract, and distort what’s going on during a crisis. However, it is fantastic that it’s been an amazing way to raise awareness and connect people to relief efforts. I have seen a lot of content on Puerto Rico, and it’s incredible that we have the power to make conversation even as it moves past the ephemerality of the news cycle.

  8. Really great to see that social media is helping in relief efforts, especially considering that our government has been slow to do anything. I think this a fantastic example of how tech moves faster than people, who move faster than companies, who move faster than governments.

  9. Great post! You did a great job of turning something personal into a very applicable and clearly researched topic. I also really appreciated your analysis of both the good and the bad of social media in emergencies like this one.

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