Talon

How social media spread wildfire news

California residents connect via internet during disaster

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As hilltops set aflame in Southern California, so did the internet.

Through social media and news broadcasting, impacted community members were able to deliver updates about the fires as soon as new information became available. TV networks like Fox News, ABC7, and KTLA ran coverage on the Woolsey Fire 24/7, while individuals posted the latest occurrences on the internet. Whether they be students or community leaders, a variety of people were willing to pitch in for the cause.

“[Social media] was super useful in helping me stay in contact with friends, and also for the spread of information,” sophomore Kristin Chen wrote to the Talon.

During the height of the fires, Chen posted around 15 informational pictures on her Instagram story per day. These pictures ranged from Twitter screenshots to fundraising opportunities, and additionally, when she arrived back home in Oak Park, she offered to check on others’ houses.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to feel [the way] I did, not knowing if my house was safe,” Chen wrote. “I thought maybe I could do that just to help even a little bit.”

Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks was also active online. She frequently posted on Twitter and Facebook, keeping her followers updated on the latest news and safety information. Parks said she remembered when there was no online communication for emergencies, and how evacuation protocol differed from that of today.

“It’s a different world than it was in the past,” Parks said. “We didn’t even have the ability to do a phone call notification.”

Although the digital world may provide fast and easy methods to spread news, Parks said she believes there’s value in double-checking all claims, especially in disaster situations.

“Oftentimes there’s such a desire to be expedient that people may not verify the information,” Parks said. “I think it’s something that we all have to be aware of, when you can put it out to such a large audience in such a quick time.”

Derek Ross, President of the Oak Park Unified School District Board, shared a similar mentality. As the editor and publisher of the website “Oak Park Now,” he regularly uses social media. Yet, he said that the rumors that circulated online about the fires concerned him, especially ones that claimed that local buildings and even Oak Park High had been burnt down.

“Social media is a dual-edged sword,” Ross said. “Information does flow, for sure. Much of that information is extremely beneficial and helpful to understanding the situation at hand. However, the other edge of that sword is the constant misinformation that begins to spread throughout the community.”

Despite these online falsehoods, Ross said he still believes that the people living here make all the difference.

“The one thing we know about the community of Oak Park is that when things get tough, we’re resilient,” Ross said. “And we get tough back.”

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