Column: Social media can be good during crises

When Aaron Jayjack started his drive to Austin, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey left the area, he never expected to pick up a passenger along the route. But when he stopped for gas and a dog started following him, he knew he had to help the little guy. Giving the dog — later found out to be named Cash — the passenger seat, Aaron posted photos of him on Facebook, begging people to share it in hopes of finding the dog’s owner. 

Aaron’s post went viral. Just hours after posting the dog’s owner reached out to Aaron and the two arranged plans for a pup reunion. Without Facebook, Cash’s owner might never have found his best friend after Harvey separated the two. 

Whether it’s a personal crisis like losing a pet or a national crisis — like Hurricane Irma — social media gives us a way to stay calm, connected and in control. 

With violence, rallies turned deadly and, yes, hurricanes . . . our world today certainly sees more than its share of national crises. With such heated debate coming from all of them, it’s no wonder our country seems more divided than ever:

Neighbors turn on each other based on what source they use to get their news. Fear causes heartbreaking discrimination. And misinformation leads to potentially deadly consequences

But used correctly, social media has the ability to change all of that. The impact of a phenomenon that reaches nearly every corner of the developed world cannot be understated. And, with a little responsibility, we can utilize social media to get rid of hostility, discrimination and misinformation, at least in some ways. 

With a quick Snapchat, Instagram story or Facebook check-in, we can instantly connect to a virtually endless community of our friends and family. Nothing has ever given us so much access to the world.

The ways that social media, when used responsibly, has already made such a difference in all of our lives often go unnoticed. But the truth is, in times of crisis, we would be lost without it. 

In 2014, Facebook launched its Safety Check feature, which allows users in areas facing crises to mark themselves safe. This gives families and friends peace of mind in an otherwise unnerving situation. 

Snapchat recently added its Our Story feature, giving people the opportunity to share what’s happening in their immediate environment with the rest of the world. During a time when being isolated can mean being ignorant to some of the most shocking events of our time, having a front row seat to the rest of the world connects us all. 

Perhaps most significantly, social media and networking sites give news sources the chance to reach a broader audience. Granted, this comes with huge responsibility, but it allows all of us faster and more up-to-date access to current events around the world. In the age of fake news, credible media sources are more needed than ever on our social media timelines. 

Some controversy has stirred recently about how social media actually harms our society rather than benefits it. They point to things like fake news articles circulating Facebook and Twitter trolls going viral. 

Nothing is perfect. But social media, as long as we all hold ourselves accountable, brings so much more good than harm. The issues arise when people themselves act irresponsibly, fearfully and attempt to sensationalize what goes on around them. 

The time of a world so disconnected from its parts is and should remain behind us. By recognizing the incredible power of social media to bridge oceans and connect people everywhere, we can start to fight things like misinformation and prejudice. Maybe then our country, let alone our world, will start to feel more united. 

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