As evacuation orders were posted ahead of Hurricane Ian’s landfall in Florida, there was a predictable rush to social media. The storm quickly became a trending hashtag, which surfaced a mix of memes, news clips, official warnings, and all sorts of opinions across platforms.
This, as you probably know, is nothing new. Before, during, and after hazard events, social media has become a critical source to solicit and spread information, to express emotion, to check in on loved ones, to establish community, and to raise awareness, to name just a few uses. There are articles
about it (including multiple ones from me
); there are numerous studies
So, it’s not too surprising that TikTok, now very much enjoying mainstream success, has become another go-to source for sharing during disasters. As NBC News’
Kat Tenbarge wrote:
“NBC News found a wide variety of [TikTok] livestreams from Floridians who have previously posted other location-identifying information on social media. Their livestreams show a torrential downpour, strong winds and rising waters in communities like West Palm Beach and Cape Coral.
Some livestreams drew hundreds and even thousands of viewers, many of whom sent prayers and messages of support through the platform’s comment system. One livestream seen by NBC News counted more than 55,000 concurrent viewers.”
And that’s just the livestreams—millions also watched videos with the hashtag #HurricaneIan, ranging from one TikTok
of a pricey car floating in floodwaters to an ongoing saga of a guy who decided to wait out the storm in a decidedly unsafe fashion (not linking for obvious reasons). A trend emerged of “do I stay or do I go” posts, in which people asked strangers to weigh in on whether or not they should follow evacuation orders. After those pulled in big numbers, many continued to update on the aftermath of their decisions, occasionally asking for support.
While it’s easy to dismiss this as simply another example of that larger social-media-during-disasters trend, I wanted to focus on the TikTok-ification of Ian today, because it’s worth considering the use of the app as a source for disaster news—and yes, I do mean news
. According to a Pew Research Study
, 33% of TikTok users say they regularly get their news from the app, which is a 10% spike since 2020 (Facebook, meanwhile, saw a 10% decline in the same time period).
Part of the reason this is noteworthy during disasters is that there is currently a lack of official voices on the app to share vetted information, as emergency manager Jennifer Lazo pointed out on Twitter: