Need Help? Just Post About It

Need Help? Just Post About It


For the past decade, social media has taken the world by storm. According to one study, the average American adult spends over five hours each week on social media (Casey, 2016). One of the benefits of social media is that it allows users to stay up-to-date with the news as well as what is occurring in their friends’ lives. The most popular topics to recently take over social media are Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. 

Hurricane Harvey: Social Media for help and rescue

As Hurricane Harvey dumped heavy rain on Houston, flooding quickly became a problem. Houston residents were stranded with the only hope of rescue involving being on hold with 911. That is, 911 was the only hope until people turned to social media.

Houston residents began posting personal information, such as addresses, on Facebook and Twitter asking for anyone to come to their rescue (Guynn, 2017). Others directly messaged the Houston Police Department through social media asking for rescue, which led the police department to tweet this message: “Please do not use the HPD social media accounts for rescue requests. If you have a life-threatening emergency, 911 is the best way to capture your request and make sure it is properly dispatched” (Houston Police, 2017). Additionally, hashtags were created, such as #sosHarvey and #helphouston, to flag nonpolice department emergency crews to life-threatening situations (Guynn, 2017).

Another form of social media that played a key role in Hurricane Harvey was Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods (Guynn, 2017). Nextdoor saw usual use quadruple during Hurricane Harvey and saw an even greater increase in the use of urgent alerts. The Nextdoor app allowed Houston residents to get in contact with other people in their vicinity and send out rescue requests.

Hurricane Irma: Social Media for information and updates

The largely anticipated Hurricane Irma pushed many Florida residents to evacuate prior to the storm’s arrival. However, many people chose to ride out the storm in their homes. This caused several local law enforcement agencies, the US Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to encourage Floridians to use social media as a tool to stay safe and up-to-date during Hurricane Irma (MacMillan, 2017).

Not only did Florida residents use social media to track the storm, they posted personal updates about the storm along with pictures and videos. Additionally, people posted to Facebook and Twitter that they were safe throughout the storm. Facebook made this task easy for users by activating its safety-check tool, which allows users in emergencies to mark themselves as safe on their profiles (MacMillan, 2017). 

As social media remains present in everyday life, their significance in times of crisis are just beginning to be understood.

 – Alli Williams ’19


Casey, S. (2017). Social studies: A look at the social landscape. 2016 Neilsen Social Media Report. 1-29. Retrieved from

MacMillan, D. (2017). In Irma, emergency responders’ new tools: Twitter and Facebook. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Houston Police. (2017, August, 27). Please use 911 for life threatening emergencies. Retrieved from %5Eauthor

Jessica Guynn (2017). Facebook, Nextdoor become digital lifelines in hurricanes. USA Today. Retrieved from