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Twitter brings us together in time of need

Public Telephones
March 23, 2016

In years past, it may have been talking on the telephone, at work, in cafes or across a neighbor’s fence that brought us together in times of need.

Today, it’s social media, and after yesterday’s attacks in Brussels, primarily Twitter. To share news and information. To help each other. And to console each other.

Here’s an animated heat map The Washington Post created to illustrate how word of the tragedy spread across Twitter. Featured are tweets by location that included the word “Brussels” from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. EDT on Tuesday morning.

With phone lines and cell networks overwhelmed, as The Washington Post’s Andrea Peterson (@kansasalps) reported, Belgian officials urged people to use social media first.

Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo repeatedly advised the public, via Twitter, to use different social networks, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter — where #Brussels is trending worldwide — while connected to WiFi to communicate.

The Belgian Crisis Center also, via Twitter, recommended that those outside Belgium try to reach people in Belgian “through social media first,” as opposed to calling them.

Per Fox News, Belgians quickly harnessed social media to help those affected by the attacks, using the hashtag #IkWilHelpen, “I will help” in Flemish. The Twitter account @BrusselsLift and the hashtag #Brusselslift connected people who needed a ride with drivers who had empty seats. Transport systems had been shut down.

As with last year’s Paris terror attacks, the hashtag #PorteOuverte, “Open Door” in French, was used to offer shelter to people stranded.

USA TODAY’s Mary Bowerman (@marybowerman) reported that hours after the attacks, #JeSuisBruxelles and #JeSuisBrussels, meaning “I am Brussels,” were trending on Twitter in a sign of solidarity with victims.

The French newspaper, Le Monde, shared its support with a compelling image of the French flag comforting the Belgian flag.

With the good of social media, comes the bad. The Jerusalem Post’s Maayan Groisman (@GroismanMaayan) reported ISIS supporters celebrated the bombings on social media.

Shortly after the first explosion in Zaventem airport that killed 14 people, Islamic State supporters created the Twitter hashtag, “Brussels is on fire,” to express their happiness about the attack and deliver threatening messages to “Western Crusaders.”

The most common remark under the hashtag was: “You declared war against us and bombed us, and we attack you inside your homeland.” After each additional attack, Islamic State supporters celebrated by writing “Allahu Akbar.”

Social media, including Twitter, have become part of the fabric of our society. It’s how we communicate professionally, socially and in time of need.

Are you using social media today? Are you using it well? If not, how would you communicate with others, including loved ones, in time of need?

Image courtesy of Flickr by sallysue