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Social Media During A Crisis: Why We Share Online Mid-Event

In January I was in the office of a brand-new huge client when my phone rang. It was my mother’s doctor, saying that she was extremely ill and was refusing to go to the hospital. Could I come and reason with her and try to get her to an ER?

What I did next will surprise no one in the online community. I sent out a tweet, saying “S**T! My mom is sick on my first day working here!” Then I told my boss, packed up my computer, and went to my mom’s doctor. Throughout that day and night and the ER, I updated my Twitter and Facebook pages often.

Why? There are a million reasons, but the first one I want to stress is this: even in the midst of a horrible, horrible crisis there is a HUGE amount of time spent, simply, WAITING. Ten years ago, that waiting time would have been spent calling family and loved ones. But today? The fastest way to reach those family members and friends is online. And? A massive number of those friends are online “only” friends, if you’re a blogger.

Janice of 5 Minutes For Mom (and, of course, MomCrunch) said it best in her post about this regarding the reactions to Monica Bielanko writing about her recent fire.

Have you ever had unexpected tragedy rip through your world, leaving you stunned and helpless. I have. I have stood there, a bystander to my own life unraveling. And you can’t do anything.

It wasn’t like the firefighters were handing her one end of a fire house and saying, “Come on lady — get off Twitter! We need you to put out this fire!”

No. She was watching, helpless from her family’s car. And she called out three short sentences to her friends. She expressed herself in her language, in her world, in her community.

I think the key point is, indeed, this: the fireman were not asking her to help put out the fire. In the ER, when your kid is sick, and the doctors kick you out of the room for a procedure, and there is no nearby shoulder for you to cry on, why would you NOT reach out to the virtual shoulder that’s available to you? When my mom was taken away for a scan and I wasn’t allowed to be with her, why on earth was it bad to reach out and say to my friends, “I’m really scared, we don’t know what’s wrong, please pray for her” on Twitter?

I think, ultimately, that the heart of the issue is simply this: there are people who think that NOTHING should be shared online. Those people will never think it’s okay to tweet during a crisis. There will be no convincing them differently. But I do know this, in my heart; the massive upswell of support that I and my mother received when she was sick in January, the huge amount of prayers sent up by the online community, are part of why she got better. I absolutely believe in the power of community, and my community? Is online.

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