Maui, an island in Hawaii, has experienced a number of fires for the past month. At least 115 deaths and nearly 400 missing people were caused by the wind-driven fires. The area surrounding the town of Lahaina could be years away from recovery, and in some ways it’s already old news.
This happens often after a major disaster.
There is round-the-clock news coverage, calls for thoughts and prayers, visits by the president and other officials—and then the story ends, even if the recovery can be months and years in the making. Maui’s story may not disappear so easily, however, with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and X.
Susan Campbell, distinguished professor in the Department of Communication, Film and Media Studies, University of New Haven, and adviser to The Charger Bulletin.
Even local media can no longer stay with a catastrophe for long. This is more a result of fewer newsrooms than story fatigue.
The local newspaper published an article after Hurricane Katrina. Times-Picayune, did a masterful job of letting people know what was happening online, before Facebook, and people came to rely on the information they could find there—a relatively new concept back then,” added Campbell. “Even though the majority of Americans had already moved on to other things, they still remained loyal. Times-Picayune “Stay on the story, and we can follow it online.”
Citizen reporters picking up the Slack
Social media can fill the void created by the shifting media landscape, and the fact that local media outlets are forced to work harder with less resources. This could ensure that Maui’s recovery is reported.
It is the same for every community that has experienced a natural disaster.
“News staffs are significantly smaller, and people rely on online information—social media—posted by people who are on the ground; or so one would hope,” Campbell continued. In a tragedy such as the Maui Fires, larger media are already looking to other sources, but the locals continue the online conversation.
Many people use social media to search for missing family members and get answers to frequently asked questions.
Alan Fyall suggested that social media was a great way to spread information, but the content must be accurate. He is associate dean of the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and the endowed chair of Tourism Marketing.
Fyall noted that a clear date and time must appear on the post, with regular updates at specific times. It is crucial to maintain strict control over such posts in order to guarantee the reliability and credibility of messages.
Social media might not replace traditional media completely.
Citizens are less likely to be able to report a story in the same depth as traditional news outlets. This issue is further complicated by the restrictions placed on social media. Residents in Canada, for example, have complained about their inability share information on wildfires via Facebook or Instagram. In June, Meta’s parent company began blocking links for users to news in Canada after Canada passed legislation that allowed news outlets to negotiate payments with tech giants in exchange for sharing articles on their platforms.
Although some posts may be helpful, not all are.
It is possible that social media platforms are used to disseminate misinformation or worse after a catastrophe.
These posts can be a godsend for people who are still following this story from afar. These posts are a blessing for people who have been following the story from far away, said Campbell.
What is posted is another issue.
Not everyone may want to be forever online, recorded/photographed at what could be among the worst moments in their lives. The context of photos and videos on social media is often lost, making it difficult to understand the story. Users should always ask permission before photographing someone who is in distress, and make sure that they share the right details.
Fyall stated that “people will automatically upload their photos which can be both good or bad.” While some of the posts may add to confusion and anxiety, there will also be posts that are helpful. They will direct users to safe tourist spots and point them in the right direction. It is important to be accurate with the date and time, so that those who follow can have a clear timeline on what’s happening, where, and when. The credibility of the source is another issue. Random posts by unknown sources will only add fuel to the fire, rather than being viewed objectively.