A Lesson in Social Media Etiquette During a Disaster

by ElizabethReidenbach on November 8, 2012

A resident of New Jersey's aerial view photograph of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

This photograph, taken after Hurricane Sandy had left the state of New Jersey, illustrates the horrific impact the storm wagered on the East Coast in October 2012.

When Hurricane Sandy made its way up the East Coast on October 29, 2012, no one was immune from the ravage it inflicted upon millions of people up and down the susceptible coastline – not even the most powerful or wealthy celebrities. Thanks to the continuous and instantaneous footage of the disaster areas being broadcast live (via raw news footage and online social media platforms), the entire globe watched helplessly as the storm ravaged apartment buildings, homes, and possessions. Millions of residents in both the states of New Jersey and New York were left without electricity, shelter, food, and basic survival supplies for days on end, anxiously awaiting relief efforts by FEMA and national non-profit organizations.

The images of despair, mass destruction, and heartbreak didn’t just directly impact the common American folk, as many East Coast-based celebrities, such as Katie Holmes, Jerry Seinfeld, and Sarah Jessica Parker, were caught in the midst of the environmental disaster. Celebrities with verified Twitter accounts extended concern, support, and love to victims, while those affected by offered first-hand testimonials on the situation. From model Heidi Klum’s announcement that her annual Halloween party would be re-scheduled to a later date due to the sensitive nature of the circumstances to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proclamation that the annual New York Marathon would be cancelled, most figures in the public eye responded to the natural disaster appropriately.

That is, except for very one notable, not to mention very public, reaction.

Former child star and troubled adult entertainment star Lindsay Lohan's Twitter account

Actress Lindsay Lohan, aged 26, found herself in hot water once more when she sent this off-beat tweet to her fans regarding the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

Former Disney star and Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan

Actress Lindsay Lohan appears in a still from the annual 2010 MTV Movie Awards. Lohan recently made entertainment headlines when she sent a tweet to her followers offering her unique perspective on Hurricane Sandy.

Former Disney darling and current troubled Hollywood star Lindsay Lohan is no stranger to controversy and the 26-year-old starlet once again found herself at the heart of public debate and scrutiny when she posted a seemingly insensitive tweet on her Twitter page regarding Hurricane Sandy. Lohan’s attempt to use social media as a means of alleviating fears and raising the morale of victims affected by the tropical storm completely backfired in her face. Ultimately, by calling into question andthen utilizing a sense of humor to downplay the severity of the storm, Lohan received not only substantial backlash by the Twitter community, but some suggested that Lohan desperately required the management of the Twitter account by an experienced publicist in order to prevent similar situations from arising in the future. From the tabloid darling’s perspective, the goal of the tweet was to diffuse and downplay the concerns her key audience members had about Hurricane Sandy, but the outcome provided a strikingly polar opposite result.

During times of disaster, social media mechanisms are often one of the first resource tools that individuals turn to for not only additional information, but to ask questions and express an opinion on the topic at hand. Celebrities are no exception to this rule. Unfortunately, the exercise of appropriate moral judgment has appeared to fallen by the wayside in favor of expressing sarcastic and witty commentary online. From my vantage point, while Lohan has led a troubled life in recent days – from the resignation of her publicist to open toxic fights with her family and the recent threat of prosecution by the police – the disarray of her personal and professional life is no excuse for her questionable outward stance during a delicate period of time where emotions are running high and victims are seeking aid, empathy, and support – not a few chuckles. Lohan seems to have violated one major social media rule in a crisis scenario; that is, the avoidance of posting inconsiderate remarks online. For a celebrity, making snarky jokes or incorporating a distinguished tone of humor online about a disaster or a crisis situation is dangerous territory to enter, as the Hollywood star learned the hard way. However, perhaps the small silver lining for Lohan is that she can take comfort in knowing that she is not the only person to take heat for her Twitter response to Hurricane Sandy. U.S. retailers American Apparel and GAP received extensive disapproval from Americans when both corporations attempted to promote their respective brands via social media outlets by using the storm as an excuse.

Do you believe that there is a code of social media etiquette to follow during a crisis, or is it impossible to set a universal measure of guidelines? Are celebrities in the wrong to express his or her own personal stance in a disaster situation, no matter how controversial the content may be, or should they relinquish all rights to seasoned community managers?


  • http://twitter.com/nikkigeffen Nikki Geffen

    Great post Elizabeth and very timely! I think that celebrities should be able to voice their opinions. They just have to be smart about it. They should be aware that if they say something inappropriate, they will have to suffer repercussions. However, I think in times of tragedy it is important that they take over their social media accounts and post personal opinions.

  • Katie L

    Great post, Elizabeth! I had no idea about Lindsay Lohan’s tweet! But wow, how insensitive of her… although I am not surprised since she seems to be in a strange, destructive phase. I think people should just use common sense when it comes to social media. In times of national tragedies disasters, it’s best to either say nothing or only say something uplifting and NO mention/promotion of your brand!

  • http://twitter.com/CandiceCerro Candice Cerro

    Wow, I never saw Lindsay Lohan’s tweet until reading this. It appears to be very ignorant. I was also shocked by some of GAP’s tweets about the storm.

  • HillaryBrown

    Thought provoking post, Elizabeth! I really think celebrities need to be careful about what they say over social media, especially celebrities who don’t have the best track record to begin with. In Lindsay’s case, I think she should strongly consider hiring a community manager to do most of her tweeting for her. 

  • http://twitter.com/KGatena Kaitlyn Gatena

    I cannot believe that Lindsay Lohan would tweet that during Hurricane Sandy. How insulting! There is definitely a code of social media etiquette to follow, not only during a crisis but all the time. 

  • Molly Russell

    I don’t think it is wrong for celebrities to express their own personal stance in a disaster situation. They are people too and these social media platforms are forms of personal expression. But I do think they need to keep their self brand in perspective. Their job is to obtain and keep fans, and if they post something insensitive about a crisis that is effect a lot of people, they should be ready for the backlash they will probably receive.

  • Ahmanielle Hall

    Wow, I can’t believe she said that! Well, goes to show that ignorance is bliss; if she didn’t know how people were affected by the hurricane then she should have kept it generalized or said nothing at all. That was insensitive and although she may have not had any idea what was really going on, it would have helped if she had made an informed comment on the situation.

  • Mia Becker

    I think it’s important to be proactive on social media – especially being a public figure…..so much more potential to do well than make comments like LL.

  • http://twitter.com/lavenusperdida Fernanda Lopez

    I hadn’t heard about Lohan’s comments on Twitter. But I did read many tweets from companies that disguised intentions to sell products under “concerns”   for the victims. I think that is tasteless and it’s important as consumers to re-consider our relationships with these companies and/or celebrities when they don’t seem to care about the community.

  • Brooke M.

    I couldn’t believe it when I saw what Lindsay Lohan tweeted during Hurricane Sandy. It’s comes across as insensitive and disrespectful, especially given the hardships that so many people experienced during this storm. While she probably didn’t mean to cause any harm, it certainly didn’t come off that way!

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