Social Media’s Role in the Orlando Tragedy

In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in our country’s history, people are flocking to social media to mourn, grieve, and discuss difficult issues such as gun control, homophobia, mental health, and terrorism. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (among others) have been flooded with comments, opinions, powerful images, and hashtags such as #PrayForOrlando, #OrlandoStrong, and #OrlandoUnited in the wake of this horrific tragedy that took the lives of 49 innocent people, and injured an additional 50.

While keeping the victims in our hearts and discussing these issues online have been effective to bring awareness to such powerful issues within our country, social media was even more influential during the actual attack. Orlando authorities, nearby establishments, and Pulse nightclub itself posted to social in real-time to warn people and give updates.

Twitter breaks news 15 minutes faster than any news outlet, and this attack was no different. “Everyone, especially people 35 and under, get their news there,” said Shelley Costello, a social media consultant in Orlando. “This is the news source of the world today. This was trending on social media way before it hit TV.”

To this point, Facebook enabled a system in which those in the affected area can mark themselves as safe. This enables friends and loved ones to know that they were safe during the shooting – prompting friends to receive a notification on the platform. Snapchat also included a live story combining users’ posts regarding updates at the surrounding hospitals, where people can donate blood, and updates from family members of the victims.

Whether you find social media frivolous or not, real-time updates such as these are extremely helpful and posts describing words of support, kindness, and love are irreplaceable. Sometimes it can be an overwhelming amount of noise, but it can also be gratifying, helpful, and heartwarming to know that despite all of the hatred and violence in our world today, there is still love and support. Even from strangers on a digital device, thousands of miles away.