Communications in community tragedy

shooting vigil

Candles lit the tear-dampened faces of thousands of people of different schools, ages, races & religions in the Pit tonight, all gathered to honor the lives of Deah, Yusor & Razan. My thoughts and prayers are with those who knew and loved them best. 

Following the tragic murders of Deah Barakat,  his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, their loved ones and the N.C. State and Carolina communities spent Tuesday night and Wednesday mourning & remembering.


The following are some observations that I’ve made about mass communication as I’ve watched the events unfold:

  • News spreads quickly, and the source of breaking news is not necessarily news outlets. I first heard of the shooting at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday. Although Alert Carolina did not release the victims’ identities until after 3 a.m., the information had already spread via social media by the time I went to bed that night. I looked to YikYak. It was useful, and hate it. I learned a lot about the case (and quickly) because it so directly impacted those in the Chapel Hill area. The anonymity factor, however, allows for insensitivity and could contribute to the spread of rumors. Once news spread outside of Chapel Hill, I turned to Twitter for updates. shooting profile
  •  Images are powerful. When I think back on this in years to come, I anticipate remembering the graduation picture of the three (above) as well as silhouette graphic.  These two images have been circulating widely. People are using them as profile pictures on social media, posting them on Instagram with related hashtags and including them in news articles. I think associating images with stories creates a deeper connection for the reader, draws the attention of those who have seen the photos but not yet heard the news and fuels movements by giving them a face or a symbol.
  • Social media is a powerful mobilizer. I first heard about the vigil on Facebook Wednesday afternoon. I watched as those attending grew by the hundreds in shooting FBjust a couple hours. When the meeting place and time changed, I saw it on Facebook before an email announcement from Chancellor Folt. The vigil drew thousands. Social media played a role in spreading the news quickly to a large group. Some were probably more motivated to attend after seeing the RSVPs of friends and the massive response of the community as a whole prior to the event itself. Facebook is currently motivating & mobilizing those who have been inspired by Deah, Yusor & Razan to carry on their legacies.

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