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Does compassion go viral? Social media, caring, and the Fort McMurray wildfire

Faculty Advisor




social media, disaster, community, civic engagement, philanthropy

Abstract (summary)

In May 2016, an enormous wildfire threatened the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta and forced the evacuation of all of the city’s residents. Outpourings of support teemed in from all across Canada and over the world, prompting the largest charitable response in Canadian Red Cross history. This paper examines Albertans’ response to the wildfire by exploring caring and helping behaviors as well as the role of social media in facilitating these remarkable charitable efforts. The paper uses mixed methods including an analysis of the most popular Tweets related to the wildfire and an Alberta survey collected months after the disaster. The analysis of tweets reveals that care, concern, and invitations to help were prominent in social media discourse about the wildfire. The analysis of survey data demonstrates that those who followed news about the wildfire on social media express higher overall levels of care and concern for those affected, which led to helping those impacted by the wildfire. The findings provide important insights about the role of social media in disaster relief and recovery as well as citizens’ civic engagement.

Publication Information

Boulianne, Shelley, Joanne Minaker, and Timothy J. Haney. 2018 "Does Compassion Go Viral? Social Media, Caring, and the Fort McMurray Wildfire." Information, Communication & Society 21(5):697-711. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2018.1428651.


Item Type





Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)