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 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?