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Social media's uses expanding, as seen after Oklahoma tornado

moore destruction
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
As social media takes on increasing official use in the aftermath of major events, the utility of these communication platforms to inform individuals living near and far from those events will likely become even more prevalent.

Last week's tornado in Moore, Okla., which killed 24 people and injured 377, is being remembered on Twitter; the terms “#Oklahoma” “#OKC” and “#PrayforOklahoma” all were trending on the microblogging site shortly after the tornado struck.

Peter Joseph Gloviczki
Peter Joseph Gloviczki

The response has been recognized by state and local leaders. A tweet on May 21, the day after the tornado, from the account of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (@GovMaryFallin) reads: “Appreciate outpouring of support for #Oklahoma. Pls keep our state in your prayers as the search and recovery effort continues today.” The last tweet of May 20 from the city of Moore (@cityofmoore), stated: “We are logging off from our social networks. We will be back in the morning early. Please Pray for #mooreok and @cityofokc.” Their first tweet the next morning informed about a noon press conference at City Hall. The official website for the city of Moore encouraged individuals to access city Facebook and Twitter feeds to remain abreast of unfolding events.

These postings and those that followed suggest that online communication in general and social media in particular may become an integral part of how the city — in an official capacity — responds to this event. In this way, we continue to witness a growing acceptance of social media for a broad range of communication practices.

Fuller integration

This development is significant because it speaks to the fuller integration of social media into communication in everyday life. Local officials’ decision to direct individuals to Facebook and Twitter suggests that some important information, critical details about recovery and relief efforts, would be posted online.

Early criticisms of Facebook and Twitter centered on their brevity and wondered whether substantive information could be presented in just a few words. The May 20 tragedy answers that in the affirmative. On that Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma (@NWSNorman) tweeted: “TORNADO EMERGENCY for Moore. 328pm,” a posting which was retweeted by the city of Moore. While it is not known if people in the affected area saw or took action as a result of this tweet, the tweet was ostensibly intended to warn citizens in the path of the storm.

Social media have long been noted, and rightly so, for the ways that they can connect individuals around the country and the world. After the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 and the Newtown shootings in 2012, expressions of support were prominent on social-networking sites. The impact of those tragedies was revealed to be much broader than the geographic communities where the events occurred.

Impact with no boundaries

After the Moore tornado, similar expressions of support from around the country and the world were immediately prominent on Facebook and Twitter. Just as was the case after Virginia Tech and Newtown, the impact of this tragedy will likely exceed the boundaries of its city, state or country. Social media may provide one example of that broad impact, in the form of online memorial groups and remembrance pages. And the tweets by the governor and city officials reveal that social media communication is being used to do more than reflect and remember; these platforms are also being utilized to inform.

Local, national and international audiences are being informed of next steps in the process. As social media takes on increasing official use in the aftermath of major events, the utility of these communication platforms to inform individuals living near and far from those events will likely become even more prevalent.

Peter Joseph Gloviczki, Ph.D. is a media, information and communication researcher. He lives in Minneapolis. Beginning in August, he will serve as assistant professor of communications at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.

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