The Social Web During Hurricane Matthew

Now that everyone has stopped talking about Hurricane Matthew in Charleston, I feel like I can make this observation. But first, a little background:

I’m from Arkansas, a land-locked state where tornadoes are the concern. Unlike hurricanes,  tornadoes are momentary. They last a few minutes, and everything is either okay or less than okay. My experiences with tornadoes did not transfer. Hurricanes are a drama, and life was dramatic.

Like everyone, I watched the storm as it came up the eastern coast.

On a Tuesday afternoon, I got an email, a text, and a tweet from the school telling me to evacuate. I did as told, and I left town that night.

From Tallahassee–an inland city in the panhandle of Florida–I watched as the storm made its way up the coast. Local new stations, NOAA, and the city government broadcasted current information through Periscope. Much of that information was also distilled into tweets. On Twitter, I also saw people playing wiffle ball in the streets of downtown, and on Facebook, I watched as friends livecasted from inside their homes. They had opted to stay and wanted to shame people like me who left.

After the storm passed, this tweet circulated, and I knew that everything was fine because if this was news, there was no news.

Unlike those who had stayed, I experienced the story through an ensemble of texts shared across platforms, and this experience reminded me of Liza Potts’ book: particularly her notions of how the social web is repurposed in response to disaster–her argument being that this approach is insufficient.

In South Carolina, Matthew was not a disaster, but the platforms I used to stay in touch and share messages often haptic in nature quickly became repurposed to share information about Matthew. I’m an on again, off again participant on social media. Recently, I’ve been more on than off, and during Matthew, I saw the value of interpersonal communication in and through the social web.

Because I had been participating, those channels were open, or maybe even more significantly because I had been participating, I thought to look to social media to find out what was happening.

This haptic forms of interaction online do not culminate in an immediate effect of great consequence like much of the writing considered in rhet/comp but experiencing Matthew persuaded me of their significance.

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