The importance of new media in times of tragedy

A closer look at the role social media plays when tragedy strikes

The importance of new media in times of tragedy

Picture by: Hannah McKay / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Details are continuing to emerge about the circumstances surrounding the events of last night in Nice. What we know right now, and what we must remember, is that at least 84 people lost their lives.

As the world comes to terms with yet another horrific, mass loss of life, it’s worth stepping back and acknowledging how these things unfold on the global stage. 

Images, videos and tweets from the heart of the terror were published online, in real time. It’s difficult to look at any online publication today without seeing a video of the truck rolling down the street like a bolwing ball. In this case the pins were living, breathing human beings. 

As we consume this information, these pieces of history, it’s worth remembering that those human beings were someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter. There is a danger that we will become desensitised to it all. We must not let that happen.

Tributes and love letters to France are being posted online from all around the world. #PrayForNice is trending on Twitter. The beauty of social media is that we are all brought into the story. This helps keep the normalisation of the terror at bay.

The fear and loss experienced by the people in Nice last night is incomprehensible to those of us who have not lived through it.

For the most part, social media is something frivolous and fun. It’s ridiculous and brilliant and a great way to kill some time. On days like today, however, it’s a living / historical document.

Reading through some of the eye-witness accounts on Twitter is like reading a passage of a history book. The details of how the terror unfolded is accompanied by images, vines and longer videos.

We don’t need to try to imagine what it was like to be there – we can see it for ourselves.


Aside from live-reporting and providing global support, social media is also an important tool for friends and families to see if their loved ones are safe. Facebook’s ‘Safety Check’ and Google’s ‘Person Finder’ have been enabled for numerous terror attacks and tragedies in the recent past. This is a valuable asset for those in danger zones as phone lines very often become jammed.

Seeing friends or colleagues announce their safety in times of terror is a great source of comfort and creates a sense of community - regardless of geographical placement. Well wishers worldwide no longer need to wait for top-of-the-hour news bulletins to know what's going on. 

There are many debates to be had in relation to social media. We don't know what long-term impact it will have on society. We don't know if users should charge media outlets for using their images, videos and tweets. We don't know when the next attack will be.

For now, however, there's nothing more we can do but keep the people of Nice in our thoughts and keep the worldwide community mentality alive.