Commentary

Following Attacks, Users Turn To Social Media For News, Solidarity

Social media companies, including Facebook and Twitter, sprang into action following the terror attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13, offering tools to help people in the area tell family and friends they were safe, while users around the world turned to the sites for minute-by-minute updates and to express solidarity with the French people.

Facebook activated its “Safety Check” feature immediately following the attacks, enabling users to tell their social networks that they are safe and unharmed. Facebook sends a message to users detected in the geographic zone a message asking if they are okay and then allows them to post the message to their social networks.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, this is the first time Facebook offered “Safety Check” for a terrorist attack; previously it activated the feature for natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal, and the decision to offer it reflects the scale of the Paris attacks, with thousands of people potentially affected in one of the world’s great cities.

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Meanwhile, Google offered free international calls to France via its Hangout mobile app, so users could check on loved ones, friends and colleagues in France.

For its part Twitter provided moment-by-moment updates on the terror attacks and their aftermath through its new “Moments” feature, which curates tweets about ongoing events in real time from news organizations and people on the scene, creating a multi-sourced live news feeds including photos and videos.

Twitter users also turned to the microblogging platform to offer assistance during and after the attacks. In Paris users posted the hashtag #PorteOuverte, “open door,” opening their homes to people stranded away from home by the transportation shutdown; over one million tweets using the hashtag were posted in the ten hours following the attacks.  

In the U.S., Twitter users posted the hashtag “StrandedInUS to offer lodging to French people stuck on this side of the Atlantic after flights were canceled.

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