Social Media in Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief How stories come together on social media

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On Friday, Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey hit southern Texas, wreaking havoc on homes, businesses and families. This tragedy has brought the country together in ways that only a natural disaster can. However, today, the support that is flowing into Texas seems to be measured in Instagram likes and Twitter retweets. This endless support looks good in theory, but is the coverage helping? Are those affected by this tragedy receiving the assistance they deserve?

To begin looking for answers, a quick trip to Instagram is a good start. By looking up #HurricaneHarvey, 642,053 posts are generated (as of late August). By scrolling through the feed, hundreds of photos display hearts or the shape of Texas. While positive thoughts and prayers are always appreciated in a time of need, what the victims of this disaster really need are food supplies, funding to rebuild and the donation of necessities such as clothing and toiletries.

Many celebrities, such as contestants from “The Bachelor” franchise the Kardashians and others used their platforms to raise awareness of the severity of Hurricane Harvey and asked their fans to donate to the American Red Cross. While they may mean well, these celebrities post once or twice and then go back to posting photos of their overpriced iced coffee and #throwbacks from their latest beach vacation.

On the other hand, some take it more seriously, such as the band Green Day; they kept up with their typical social media posts while also posting multiple displays of the damage done in Texas. The band also hosted a full performance through Facebook Live on Sept. 5, encouraging their fans to donate to Americares.

To further investigate how this social media coverage is affecting the disaster, we interviewed Kirsten Rockey, a junior studying communication with a minor in communication sciences and disorders at MSU. Rockey grew up in Katy, Texas, 30 miles west of downtown Houston.

“My hometown, Katy, was one of the hardest hit areas of Hurricane Harvey. My parents still live in the home I grew up in, and my sister and her husband live in the town as well. This is the place I grew up in. This is my home,” Rockey said.

While Rockey’s family home was not directly affected, she worried about the friends and relatives she has living in the area.

“Fortunately, my parents’ and my sister’s homes were okay. My high school is being utilized as the headquarters for the National Guard. It’s hard to not be affected by a storm of this capacity. My family wasn’t able to work for most of the week due to water levels on the highways,” Rockey said.

To keep up with hurricane news, Rockey turns to her mother for updates. Since the social media coverage is so widespread, Rockey believes that “people in Houston have done a fantastic job of using social media to fundraise since the hurricane occurred.” The use of social media has become a tool to fundraise and help the residents of Houston.

“I have an up-front and personal connection to the storm. I think [social media] is a great way to fundraise. The world is a much smaller place now due to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram,” Rockey said. “It’s a great way to ask for help but also offer help to others. I saw many friends back home sharing numbers and shelters that were open to people in need.”

It turns out social media has played a remarkable role in disaster relief aid. For example, American football player JJ Watt has raised tens of millions of dollars for hurricane victims. Other celebrities, such as Kevin Hart, sent out a video encouraging people to donate to the cause.

The storm and its aftermath have been all over social media, so there’s no escaping it, and this encourages people to donate. Rockey and those affected by the hurricane — even those who were not — are eager to see the country come together.

“All I can do is encourage people to please donate to charities, specifically charities that will donate all proceeds to the relief effort,” Rockey said.

Charities and organizations that display notable effort and donate money to the cause include Americares, ShelterBox USA and All Hands Volunteers.