First published in
As Australia – and the rest of the world – struggle to come to terms with the devastation caused by bushfires, many are using social media as an outlet.
On Instagram, hashtags like #bushfiresaustralia and #australiaisburning show thousands of heartbreaking posts sharing personal experiences, expressing solidarity and drumming up awareness. Some of these powerful posts have gone viral, bolstering global news reports and helping the rest of the world understand the extent of the crisis. A photo of the boots of a heroic firefighter with the soles melted. Difficult-to-watch videos of wildlife being burnt and rescued. Once picturesque landscapes, now obscured by smoke.
Amongst those viral posts, there are maps claiming to show where fires burn across the country. As Buzzfeed diligently reported, a number of these have false information. Whether they’ve been misinterpreted or are artistically enhanced, the maps don’t share a true reflection of what’s happening. While misleading, you could also say it’s inevitable. At a time of confusion, when people are desperate to spread well-meaning awareness, few will delve into the origins of a post before hitting share.
However, this can’t overshadow the many ways in which social media has helped the relief efforts. The most obvious example is the incredible Celeste Barber and her record-breaking Facebook fundraiser. Despite an initial target of $5,000 has topped $25 million. The Australian comedian has replaced her usual content with posts about the fires, mobilising her millions of followers. Melbourne’s new graffiti mural with Celeste’s face and the words ‘thank you’ show Australia’s appreciation her effort. Not to mention demands that she replaces the PM.
Elsewhere, amazing initiatives like @spendwiththem aim to give communities long-term support. The Instagram account features business from fire effected areas, urging their thousands of followers to shop with them to help them bounce back faster.
Small business from outside the effected areas are using social media to publicise their solidarity too. Whether donating their profits to charity, or creating special limited edition products, social posts have helped spread the word. Others have employed less traditional methods. Instagram influencer Kaylen Ward promised a nude photo for everyone who donated more than $10 and raised $700,000.
Social media has made publishers of us all and in these times of crisis, provide a platform to do what we can, with what we have. It gives the world a window into the unedited stories of those effected and the ability to follow these stories as they play out. This can prompt a deeper empathy than a simple vox pop. Every day, Celeste has shared multiple Instagram Stories of her family’s fear and reaction to the donations as they came rolling in, keeping her followers up to date.
Social platforms like Facebook are well set up to receive donations as soon as a user is inspired, without redirection to another site. Their donation button (used on Celeste’s page), doesn’t require a new account set up and reduces the risk of someone thinking “I’ll do that later”, then forgetting.
At such an overwhelming time, when so many of us feel helpless, social media has given us a place to express, a way to help and space to come together. With so much heartbreak, it’s worth noticing the positives where we can.