Social Media

What Joel Osteen learned about social media from Hurricane Harvey

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Thank heaven for social media.

That sentiment was definitely on the minds of many people caught in the path of Hurricane Harvey, which is shaping up to be one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. It dumped 24.5 trillion gallons of water on Texas — enough to cover the entire state of Arizona in a foot of water. More than 32,000 people were displaced and forced to go to shelters. The official death toll stands at 46 (at the time of the podcast recording, it was 35).

That last number might have been higher if not for social media. In the early hours of the hurricane, 911 systems were overwhelmed, and many people reported not being able to get through to emergency services at all. 

With the water level rising and no help coming, lots of people turned to social media to plea for rescue.

In many cases, their pleas were answered. When calls for rescue went out, influencers began retweeting, Facebook groups were formed, and certain “low-tech” apps (like push-to-talk communicators) became invaluable. Social media networks became a force in connecting rescuers with those in need, and helping volunteer forces organize.

Public figures felt the power of social media in the wake of the disaster, too. 

Popular Houston-based televangelist Joel Osteen was forced to respond when Twitter stirred up criticism that his massive Lakewood Church stood nearly empty while shelters in the area were filling up. 

First Lady Melania Trump was a target, too, over her choice of footwear, although the backlash to that criticism was just as swift.

Over the course of the week, Twitter saw more than 27 million tweets related to Harvey, making it the second most-tweeted event in 2017 (the Super Bowl saw 27.6 million). Facebook opened up Safety Check to those affected by Harvey, and saw more than 1,000 users made requests for help via the feature, with more than 3,500 offers from volunteers seeking to help those affected.

On this week’s MashTalk, we talk to Houston resident and Ringer staff writer Shea Serrano, who became one of the most prolific “signal boosters” on Twitter for people affected by the storm, and Bill Moore, CEO of Zello, whose “live conversations” app was instrumental in enabling people to communicate directly when regular methods weren’t working.

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or adding the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

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