I am truly amazed at the number of ways in which social media is impacting our lives and how it has become ingrained in our culture. To me, it is even more remarkable that social media has become a lifesaving tool.
We have heard stories of people in Japan being rescued after posting tweets or sending text messages detailing their locations and the often precarious situations in which they found themselves. Just last month, we heard about a resourceful college student fleeing to the attic of his Cartersville, Ga. home with laptop in tow as masked and armed intruders tied up other family members. Without a cellphone to call for help and with the landlines cut, presumably by the intruders, he sent a Facebook message pleading for someone to call the police. Fortunately a friend saw the urgent message and alerted authorities who arrived on scene to scare the bad guys away before they could seriously harm any of the family. In fact, the cops actually captured one of the gunmen.
What a difference in the way we communicate now versus years ago. This not only wouldn’t have happened in years gone by, it couldn’t.
I vividly remember as a kid living in Tennessee listening to WWL Radio from New Orleans after Hurricane Camille, one of the most powerful storms ever to strike the U.S., had roared through Louisiana and Mississippi. In those days, survivors just wanted to let friends and loved ones know they were okay and with its 50,000 watt clear channel signal that could be heard at night over much of the country, WWL announcers continuously read lists of names of people who had survived the disaster. But, it wasn’t as simple as someone calling the station and leaving a name to be broadcast. Few if any phone lines were working, cellphones and the Internet didn’t exist, power was out everywhere and WWL was operating on emergency generators.
The announcements went for days and resulted from a cooperative effort of volunteers who walked around the storm-ravaged areas with clipboards – talking to victims and assembling names for broadcast. It was also an effort of Ham radio operators who communicated the news (by voice and Morse code) to WWL and to other “Hammies” around the world.
Was that social media? It wasn’t called that back then, but I think some parts of those communications could fit into a very broad definition.
So, in Japan, when all else failed, social media did not … in 1969 when a natural disaster occurred in the U.S. the “social media” of the day linked up with the mass media and helped Americans through an incredibly difficult period.