How Social Media Was Helpful & Harmful During the Orlando Tragedy

In Lifestyle, News, Social Media by Brooke Heil

On the morning of Sunday, June 12, 2016, I was sleeping soundly in my home in Orlando, Florida when I was woken up by my phone ringing nonstop. “Hello?” I answered, still half asleep. “OH MY GOD!” my friend Leslie yelled into the phone, “YOU WEREN’T ANSWERING! YOU HAD ME WORRIED SICK.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but she quickly informed me about the tragedy that struck just hours before. I later found out that she was so worried because she knows my best friend is gay and I go with him to gay bars/clubs often, and I was the last person to answer her calls/texts.

My first reaction was to call my friends who are a part of the LGBT community and regularly visited Pulse Nightclub. My second reaction was to get on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. I furiously scrolled through my feeds, going down the list of my friends and acquaintances that had even the slightest chance of being at Pulse that night. Luckily, my friends were okay, but unfortunately, forty-nine innocent people were dead, and fifty-three more were wounded.

Clearly, I was not the only one who immediately went to social media for answers. It seemed as if the whole city was checking on each other, and the rest of the country was doing the same to check on friends and family in the Orlando area and to learn any new information regarding the shooting.

But, does social media do more harm, or more good in situations like this? There are Pros and Cons to the use of social media in wake of tragedy.


  • Check in on friends and family

As I’ve already mentioned, social media is an effective way to ensure the safety of friends and family who may have been involved in an event. You can simply check to see if they have posted anything since the incident, declaring their safety. Facebook takes it one step further, however, and has the Facebook Safety Check feature that allows users to check in and mark themselves safe.


You also receive notifications every time another user checks in. The Orlando Shootings was the first time that Facebook has enabled the feature within the United States.

  • Warnings

At 2:09am, Pulse posted a Facebook status telling people to “get out of pulse and keep running”.


Unfortunately, by the time the status was posted, the damage had been done. It serves as a reminder that social media can be used to warn people about situations even before the media picks it up.

  • Exclusive Footage

While it is chilling to watch, social media provides an exclusive look into what it was like as a victim and/or survivor of such an attack. 25-year-old victim Amanda Alvear added many Snapchats to her story that night, starting with videos of her having fun with her friends at the club and sadly, ending with footage of her cringing at the initial gunfire.

Law enforcement can use this footage to help get an idea of what it is like during the incident. Friends and family may even be able to somehow get closure one day.

  • Citizen Journalism

With every event, no matter the size or destruction caused, people will immediately get on social media to give their own side of the story. The Orlando Shootings were no exception.

Within hours, people were reporting that interviews with eyewitnesses were being cut off air because the witness would claim that there was a second shooter/accomplice.

In the aftermath, citizen journalism allows people to learn more about the victims. Due to friends and family speaking about those who were maliciously killed, we get to put a face and a name to those victims.

Citizen journalism also makes it possible to learn more about the attacker(s).

  • Support

Aside from being able to check on the well-being of potential victims, I think that the fact that we can all support one another on a global scale is one of the best aspects of social media.

Social media allowed for vigils to be planned within minutes, and for crowd funding accounts for survivors, family of victims, and Pulse staff members to be set up equally as fast. OneBlood, the blood bank located just a few blocks from both the club and Orlando Regional Medical Center, was able to ask for donations of water, juice, and snacks for blood donors, as well.

Through all of the different social media platforms, we are able to give and receive messages of support and hope from every corner of the globe. Those of us in Orlando were able to see the messages, videos, and photos of the different ways that people had our backs. From California, to Paris, to Israel, Orlando felt the love.


Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images


  • Glorifies Attacker

With the prevalence of social media, the majority of people have some sort of account lurking on the internet somewhere. The second that a villain is identified, the photo is immediately distributed. In this case, the shooter’s MySpace and Facebook photos now accompany any news story related to the attack.

The problem with this is that it glorifies the shooter. Whoever does this is making them famous – It’s giving them what they want. I refuse to even use his name, yet his photo was all over the World Wide Web within hours, and now his photo is everywhere you look.

  • Availability of Personal Information

It has been said that the shooter had accounts on dating websites/apps that catered to the gay community, such as Grindr. This presence on social media is most likely taken out of context and/or blown out of proportion, which just further escalates rumors and confusion about his motives.

  • Citizen Journalism

While I previously mentioned this as a Pro, it can also be considered a Con. Citizen journalism may help provide alternate, lesser-known facts about a crime, but it also creates confusion and conflicting reports.x

For example, law enforcement officials say that the shooter acted alone, while citizen journalists report that he had accomplice. Another example is that eyewitnesses say that the shooter had suspicious devices strapped to him, while it was later reported that he did not actually have anything of the sort.

Social media has allowed us to come together in times of sorrow and distress, and allows us to remember those that we lost in such a hateful act; and while there are negatives to relying on social media in situations like this, I am so grateful that I had this resource and I was able to check on my friends to ensure that they were safe Sunday morning. So if you ask me, I would say that the Pros for social media use following a tragedy outweighs the Cons.




About the Author

Brooke Heil

Brooke Heil graduated with a bachelor's degree in Telecommunications: Media and Society with an outside concentration in Sociology from the University of Florida. She is a master's student in the UF online master's of mass communication program specializing in social media. She writes for UFSocial and works as a Field Marketing Specialist for Hard Rock in Orlando, Florida.