Using Your Power for Good

Princess Alethea MermaidA few years ago, I played a joke on the internet.

I was meeting up with my Aunt Theda in Baltimore — as many of you know, my Aunt Theda Kontis is a well-known ENT and Plastic Surgeon. She has her own practice, but she still teaches and consults every so often at Johns Hopkins. On this particular day, she let me know that it would be easiest to meet up with her by coming through the ER entrance.

So, for funsies, I took a picture of the ER sign in the Johns Hopkins parking garage and said something flippant.

Within 45 minutes, I had about 28974 Tweets and FB messages asking if I was okay. I received texts from multiple friends, including my sister, and then finally one from Aunt Theda (who had talked to my sister) that said, “You should call your mom.”

So I called Mom, who had *not* been on the internet in the last hour and knew nothing about it, so she found it a little amusing that I was calling to tell her to not be alarmed over something that hadn’t happened. When I told her not to be worried, she laughed and said something to the effect of, “I am even less worried about you after this. Now I know that if anything does ever happen to you, the whole world will jump up to save you before I even find out about it.”

I vowed from that point on to only use my powers for good.

This past weekend, my father called a friend in Belgium who was having a birthday. The conversation went fine for a little while, but then Dad started repeating himself over and over, and finally hung up the phone. He was worried that his friend had had a stroke, because he kept repeating the same thing over and over. The connection was clear the whole time and the friend never said anything about not being able to hear my father…but we were worried. This friend was alone, and we were worried.

We were also NOT in Belgium.

If you have ever attempted to contact the emergency service of a country that you are not actually in, it’s virtually impossible. Dad spent the next half hour trying to get in touch with people overseas while mom and I looked up words like “stroke” in French. Finally, when dad was so scared and frustrated he was ready to give up, I went online and put out my own call for help.

It was answered almost immediately, and the situation is now under control. (The friend seems to be fine, but we still have a note out to other friends in Belgium to keep an eye on him, and I will be updating everyone as soon as I hear something more official.) I learned a lot all those years ago from my “fire drill” with Aunt Theda, and I learned even more this time around:

1.) When you post about an emergency on social media, some people will think you’ve been hacked. It is important that you edit your status or post a follow-up tweet that this is not actually the case. You certainly don’t want some social media spam police shutting you down before you can get your situation resolved.

2.) As soon as you find a person that will help you resolve your situation, let everyone else know. Unfortunately, the FB algorithms being what they are, a lot of people won’t see this and know that the danger has passed (or is being handled).

3.) As soon as you find a person to help you resolve the situation, delete the original status/post of your cry for help. This will stop the status from being shared or retweeted. However, people who have shared the status on FB will still have THAT status out there. You need to go to your notifications, find the list of people who shared your status, and then post a comment thanking them and assuring them that all is well.

I only regret that I did not first write down the names of the people who RTd me on Twitter before I deleted the status — I would have liked to thank them personally.

4.) It is possible that clean-up will take longer than resolving the actual emergency. I urge you to be patient with people asking you three hours or three days later if you still need help. Remember that these people are your friends, they are still willing to help you, and for whatever reason the internet is just bringing them this news now. It’s not their fault.

5.) MY FRIENDS ARE AMAZING. It was late on a Sunday night, and I was introduced to a woman in Belgium who shared a mutual friend with me on FB. Her husband called my father’s friend and spoke to him, so that we could be assured everything was fine. (The friend blamed it on a bad connection, but we were still worried.) I will definitely be sending her a huge thank you package. Subsequently a few other people on Twitter who lived in Belgium contacted me, and I thanked them just as profusely for being so willing to help a complete stranger.

6.) If you are ever on the other side of this equation, only comment if you can be helpful. Before I was put in touch with someone who could actually aid me in my emergency, I got a lot of stuff like “Too bad this wasn’t a year ago, I used to live in Belgium.” While this might be a lovely data point for your profile bio, it doesn’t help…and in an emergency situation, I can assure you that the freaked-out person who sent up the Bat Signal is only interested in information helpful at that exact moment.

Have you ever had an emergency in which you needed to turn to the internet for help? I’d be very interested to hear others’ experiences.

And again, to all of you who boosted the signal for me this weekend — thank you again, a million times. You are loved and treasured more than you know.