Hurricane Katrina was by far one of the most devastating disasters to strike America. During a decade of war, terror, uncertainty, and conflict, a major natural disaster was yet another crisis for the government under President Bush to handle. While debate lingers (and probably will be facilitated by this posting) on the effectiveness of the Bush administration and the bureaucracy of the various governmental agencies in response to this disaster, the disaster in Louisiana and throughout the Gulf Coast was broadcast on various mediums throughout the world. However, this major disaster was arguably the first of its kind to be covered in both traditional and nontraditional sources of the media. For example, while Television and Radio stations were scrambling to safely assemble reporters and news anchors on the scene, there were several calls and texts to local news stations and people were able to communicate via email to find lost ones after the flooding. Additionally, satellite coverage of the flood and aerial views from helicopters provided images of the hurricane’s aftermath, such as this one below.
However, during Katrina, there were no Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google +1’s, and other forms of social media coverage that exist today. Online streaming of news was not nearly as extensive as it is today, and many people relied on images such as the one above to witness and observe the extensive damage done by Katrina. This begs the question that I will explore throughout my future blogs. What if global disasters were extensively covered by various forms of new media? How could Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Skype, Instagram, and other widely used social tools have helped in warning of or response to this and other natural disasters? How could new media frontiers expand the possibilities of responding to natural disasters?
By far, the biggest advantage of social media and other new media sources is the ability to raise awareness of the masses and inspire sympathy from those who are not necessarily directly affected by natural and global disasters. For example, imagine if Facebook had exploded with status updates, shared news links, publicized photos and albums, and Facebook pages and groups in support of the relief efforts of the hurricane? What if Twitter had been used as a social forum to raise awareness of the disaster and advertise for donations and volunteer efforts for the victims of the hurricanes? What if Google+ was used to “+1” news stories about Katrina? What if major news/media corporations such as CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, BBC, FOX, and MSNBC provided live streaming of the aftermath of the hurricane both night and day?
I don’t necessarily have all of the answers to these questions. But I do have a vision of what could have happened after this natural disaster and other global disasters with the aid of social media and media in general. For example, advocacy and volunteer efforts of both donations and labor may have been more easily mobilized. Good citizens from all corners of the world could have united with Facebook pages, Facebook groups, and other electronic media to better organize relief efforts. A twitter account could have been set up for the city of New Orleans relief effort to provide daily updates on the progress of the aftermath of the disaster. George Bush and the administration may have taken increased flak from the public with the seemingly long and unnecessary delay in mobilizing relief to the victims. Topics such as #FireBush may have trended on Twitter. Reddit articles and posts may have circulated discussions of how inept the government was in response to the hurricane.
While these all seem common today, seven years ago, social media and new media in general was not nearly as able to accomplish these objectives as today’s new media. Who knows what the future holds? But with respect to new media in response to global disasters, Hurricane Katrina provides a starting point from which we can show how far new media frontiers have advanced in terms of the availability and accessibility, as well as the coverage and the social effects of the media after a global disaster.
By Kristian Sooklal, HONR 229F Section 0101, L. Walker
Credits to CNN.com for the image, found at:
http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2010/katrina.five.years/interactive/then.and.now/index.html. Accessed September 9, 2012.