“Fire! Fire!” Social Media and Disaster Response

So here’s the thing. I am terrible at keeping up with the news. You might even say that I am so terrible at it that I don’t keep up with the news at all.

(I am a terrible global citizen. Did you know that it took me two months to even know who Harambe was, let alone that, y’know, he was dead?)

So this blog post isn’t going to be about how you can use social media to cultivate a response to disaster so much as it is going to be about what it’s like to be on social media and then watch as a disaster unfolds.

Last summer, Fort McMurray was ravaged by wildfire.


I didn’t find out about it through watching the news on TV, or listening to the radio, or from opening a newspaper. I found about it because my friend, who lives in Fort McMurray, was tweeting about it. She was tweeting about the smoke, and the fire, and above all, the fear.

It was sobering. It was harrowing. I was afraid, but the fear I was feeling couldn’t have possibly have compared to the terror that my friend or the other citizens of Fort McMurray were feeling as they were forced to flee their homes.

Here’s the thing about traditional news outlets. Because the nature of news reporting has to be somewhat objective, when you see a disaster being covered on the news, it feels clinical in a way. It gets to the point where watching the news makes one feel like misfortune and devastation are commonplace.

On social media, disaster news is different. Because the people posting about it are generally directly experiencing what is happening, there is no filter on their words. Social media can sometimes be hard to parse, yes, which makes it difficult to believe sometimes, but in times of misfortune, it can also be remarkably empathetic. There’s an empathy garnered in social media disaster reporting that just isn’t as present in traditional news outlets. Social media removes the protection of objectivity and forces us to consider, in real time, what it might be like to be in someone else’s less fortunate shoes. In this way, social media has the capacity to make global citizens out of all of us, even if it’s just for a few moments.

Sources (images):

Fort McMurray photos show extent of fire


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