The online community responded to the tragedy of Katrina with countless offers of food, shelter and support. The outpouring of help from strangers and fellow members on a news site or Web community hints to the notion that often the Internet solves more problems than it causes.
“Several people have asked for a thread [where] they could offer shelter for Farkers fleeing the hurricane. Here you go. Hope everyone manages to stay safe,” posted Fark.com administrator Jeff Foster on Aug. 28 at 4:33 p.m. Within 10 minutes, more than 30 replies came from fellow members of this news and satire Web community.
Sincere yet humorous offers came from across the globe. Worried about their friends, many users who were not directly affected, sat in the glow of their monitors, compulsively reloading the page for more information. Farkers posted offers, directions, news flashes, and even their personal phone numbers and addresses.
“Just north of Charlotte, N.C.,…I have a spare room, inflatable mattress, and a disturbing amount of Pabst. E-mail in ye olde profile.”
“I’m just northeast of Nashville … I work for a hotel so rooms will be cheap. Also have a floor and couch if you are short on money. Contact info in profile.”
“I’m in the D.C. metro area, if anyone can get up here, I have a futon and some space on the floor. Benefits: Nice stereo and fun cat. Negatives: Tiny apartment, cat likes to ‘attack.'”
“I am always amazed to see so many people on Fark that care enough about people they don’t know, and reach out to help,” said Foster in an e-mail interview. “I remember reading in the thread we posted and thinking that all these people offering homes … it was pretty cool.”
Other posts, like that of user slimfrinky, were sobering: “I’m in Picayune, Miss… Right in the path of the thing, 45 miles from New Orleans… I have no place to go, and no choice but to wait it out. Wish me luck.” This atmosphere was not exclusive to Fark.com, but echoed and mirrored a myriad of other sites across the Internet.
On the satirical and humorous Web community SomethingAwful.com, user forum posts were largely similar. “It’s been raining nonstop since 4 a.m. in New Orleans, and it doesn’t look like it’ll stop anytime soon,” posted user kanteyluip. “I love hurricane season. Here’s hoping I get a few days off school, but preferably not because I’ve drowned.”
SomethingAwful received nearly $20,000 in less than seven hours, which made administrator Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka nearly speechless. “I may sound like an utter sap here, but I really love you guys,” he said to his active membership of 57,000. “No matter how bitter, how cynical, how sarcastic I may be, I know there’s a strong core of completely astounding people out there.”
The New Orleans Craigslist site was abuzz as well, with threads dedicated to providing shelter and finding loved ones. Every major message board, among them MySpace, Blogger and LiveJournal, set up donation services for those who wished to give.
“I have no idea how much help has come from Farkers, but I know we tried to keep people informed as much as we could,” said Fark admin Fowler.
“The thing that strikes me the hardest when really bad stuff happens, is how we end up getting the news pretty close to first. All the Farkers watching TV, listening to the radio, listening to scanners, watching web cams, and even posting from the area… I don’t think anyone can compete with that type of community reporting.”