Hurricane Harvey represented the first major hurricane during the existence of social media. During the crisis, social media was used to communicate important information to and from those who were battling the effects of the hurricane.
Its positive and the negative aspects were on vivid display, especially for the people who were dependent on the information coming fast and furious on sites like Twitter, and also dependent on communicating about specific desperate or emergency situations.
Fortunately, that desperation was recognized and rewarded in many ways. Unfortunately, that desperation was exploited and taken advantage of in other ways.
A positive, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter: “Requests for rescues were common: ‘Anyone in North Houston have a boat and can rescue a 3 &6 yo, mom, gramma and grandpa and 2 dogs?’
Some particularly web-savvy officials responded to the requests nearly in real time.”
Another particularly obvious and huge positive was the ability for notable Houston residents to utilize social media to campaign for relief funds. Houston Texans superstar J.J. Watt is a primary symbol of this type of success, as he raised more than $30 million in a short period of time by campaigning almost exclusively over social media.
Stelter noted, “As much as social media can help in a crisis, Harvey has also provided a vivid demonstration of how it can hurt.”
BuzzFeed chronicled some of the ways in which people used social media to take advantage of the plight of people who needed help, and tried to garner dishonest financial gain. For example, a Twitter user asked, “What is the number to call if you need to be rescued from your home & taken to shelter?” Another user replied with a 1-800 number that belonged to the claims center of an insurance company, and then multiple people shared the number on Facebook with posts like: “The National Guard is being deployed to our Texas area. If you find yourself in a state of emergency. Call (the posted number). Please copy, paste or share!” Many people did. The people who called this number were likely very frustrated at reaching the wrong number, and probably felt more hopeless or desperate than they already did.
For some reason, someone posing as a representative from the City of Corporate Christi posted a message on Twitter that evacuees had to bring proof or residency to enter the city. Real city officials had to make efforts to debunk the false information, which was likely difficult because people were copying and pasting the fake statement on Facebook.