Image via Pulse Orlando
By: Chelsea Cummins
I remember sitting in church and going to check my phone as the service began to wind down. I was expecting a text from my sister, but what I received was a notification that the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history had occurred in Orlando.
I quickly flashed the screen to my friend and we both began frantically searching the Internet for more information. Most major news outlets hadn’t really been covering the event yet; in fact it was Buzzfeed that delivered the tragic news to me.
Instead of turning on the news, we went to social media. In 2016, it’s almost assumed here is where you can find the most recent updates as they happen. I’ll never forget Sandy Hook and the hours my friend and I sat watching CNN while constantly refreshing Twitter for more accurate and up to date information.
More than just an outlet for news, social media serves as a way to assure friends and family of safety. When circuits are busy and lines are jammed, we can still access our Facebook to let the people who love us most know we are ok.
When tragedy strikes, we flock to social media to comfort, learn and inform. Even though one study found users believe traditional media is more credible, we still look for the immediacy provided by social networking.
Last year’s attacks in Paris were no different. More than news, social media served an important purpose. Hashtags like #prayforparis and #PorteOuverte (open door) welcomed the world to support the victims and their families and offer shelter when it was needed most. The Moments feature on Twitter pushed the important updates regarding the attacks to the top of your feed. It was here that Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, allowing those in the area to mark themselves or others as safe.
Safety Check was introduced in 2014, and used for natural disasters like the devastating earthquakes in Nepal and Chile. The Paris and Brussels attacks were the first to see it implemented in a non-natural disaster situation. While the feature is currently staff-activated, Facebook is looking into ways to give users that functionality.
No site reacts better to tragedy than Facebook I think. I don’t say this as a bad thing or to imply that the most popular social media site is capitalizing on the pain of others. Instead, Mark and the gang recognize they influence they have. With more than 1 billionactive monthly users, almost everyone is touched by Facebook in some way. We were even invited to add a filter to our profile pictures to show our support.
The most recent shooting in Orlando was no different. Facebook served many purposes during the attack. Beyond the Safety Check, Facebook gave Pulse a way to alert attendees to get out. Seven minutes after the shooting began, the club posted“Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” This was one of the first indicators of the mass shooting, with Orlando police waiting to confirm until 4 a.m.
Unfortunately, the access to Facebook means more than just the good guys can use it. It appears that the gunman, Omar Mateen, had five different accounts he used to search things like terrorist groups and law enforcement agencies. Leading up to the shooting, he posted about ‘Islamic state vengeance’ and plans for an Islamic state attack in the U.S. During the attack, he was searching for news about the club and shooting.
For better or worse, Facebook is everywhere and it’s available for almost anyone. According to the Pew Research Center, 30 percent of the general U.S. population uses Facebook for news – and that was in 2014. When disaster strikes, it’s good to know Facebook is using that power to help its users reach their loved ones and provide an outlet in the chaos.
Chelsea N. Cummins is the fixed operations marketing coordinator at Hunter Truck Sales and Director of Communications for PRSA Pittsburgh. Her passions in life include Jesus, her nieces, Twitter rants and blogging about all her ill-advised decisions. And obviously the field of public relations. Please be her friend: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn