Social Media Use During Crises

By Leanna Bernhard

boston tweet

What’s the first thing most people do when they hear about a crisis? Head to the Internet to find out more information. In recent years, more and more people have turned more specifically to social media for news than to any other online source. Social media enables users to find out information in real time, while the crisis is still taking place. Content is uploaded at amazing rates to social media sites during crises. Someone a block away from a tragic event, like the recent Boston Marathon bombings, can snap a quick picture of the scene then tweet it, and within the next few hours, that picture spreads like wildfire. It starts popping up on the websites of the world’s leading news sources.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, individuals and large companies both turned to social media to help those impacted by the tragedy. Google launched its “Person Finder,” so victims could reconnect with their friends and family during a time of spotty cell phone service. Individual Bostonians took to Twitter to offer their homes as safe havens for victims and their families to stay for the night.

Although these examples prove that social media during times of crises is a great resource, it’s necessary to remember that not all information published is true. First reports of an incident usually contain inaccurate information, such as when it was believed that a Saudi man was the culprit behind the Boston Marathon bombings. Two days after the bombings, I read on Twitter that an arrest had been made in connection to the bombings. Once again, I believed this, only to find out hours later that this report was false. Fake Twitter accounts were also created after the bombings with the intent to solicit donations for the victims, but it was a scam. These scammers tried to take advantage of the vulnerability and sympathy most people feel immediately following a crisis.

So should people continue turning to social media during and after crises? In my opinion, the good outweighs the bad. False information will always be clarified later, but having any information at all helps us to make sense of the situation and understand what has occurred. I’d rather have constant social media updates, some false, than read a headline on CNN stating “Bomb explodes during Boston Marathon” and have no other information besides that.

Using social media during times of crises is a terrific news source, but users must not be passive readers. Don’t automatically believe your friend’s Facebook status to be true. Check the validity of a Facebook post or tweet by going to a credible news website like CNN or follow credible sources to help ensure that information you read is true. Don’t get all your information from one source. Read information from a variety of social media sites to get a broader view of the crisis. Different sites will probably post different information. Be a smart social media user and make sure to join in on the conversation if you have any factual information to add!

Leanna Bernhard is a junior mass communication major with a concentration in public relations and a minor in advertising from Baltimore, MD. Along with being apart of PRSSA and the Communications Committee, she is also apart of UDress Magazine’s public relations team and an undergraduate research assistant for Dr. Courtright. She is currently a public relations intern at the Delaware Center for Horticulture and hopes to find a job in the public relations field after graduation.

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