Isolated by Harvey, Social Media Brought Houston Back Together

Facebook Live emerged as an important way to spread news, ask for help and connect with friends in the aftermath of the storm.

By Brittanie Shey September 7, 2017

Shutterstock 609925124 nae78s

Image: Shutterstock

One of many things that set Harvey apart from the last major storm to hit the Texas Gulf is the impact of social media. In September 2008, when Ike hit Texas, Twitter had only just introduced Trending Topics. Apple was celebrating the one-year birthday of the iPhone, and your mom was not yet on Facebook.

But during Harvey, with many Houstonians stuck in their homes due to rising floodwaters, people began to turn to social media for companionship and outreach. Specifically, Facebook Live. The tool became a way for people to find a sense of normalcy and routine in anything but the most routine of Houston weeks.

Davina Davidson, the director of Teachers at YogaOne, first had the idea to create a virtual yoga studio after her birthday yoga class was cancelled due to Harvey. Across the city, gyms and yoga studios, including YogaOne's studios in the Heights, Midtown and elsewhere, were closing for the safety of their instructors. The torrential rain made exercising outdoors a challenge as well. So Davidson turned to the Yoga Teacher Connect to see who was interested in teaching some virtual classes.

The Yoga Teacher Connect is a group founded by Davidson and fellow teacher Madonna McManus in June as a way to create community amongst yoga teachers from Houston's many different studios and schools. The group meets regularly to practice together and share knowledge—its most recent meeting in late August had to be cancelled because of Harvey.

"Connect was birthed from wanting there to be a space where teachers could collaborate with others," Davidson said. "It really all made sense in my mind to go through the Yoga Connect for those live classes because we were planning to meet anyways."

Not long after making a request in the group's private Facebook page, Davidson was able to compile a full two-day schedule of teachers willing to lead hour-long Facebook Live yoga classes for people unable to leave the house. Those classes represented a wide range of styles and teachers from studios across Houston, and some included themes like Yoga for Anxiety and Yoga Nidra, a form of deeply-relaxing meditation.

"I coach my students to turn to the mat in difficult times," she said. "The practice will help you. I know there were people on the Facebook Live classes who are NOT into social media, so it was really cool to be able to connect with people every day like that."

On Monday, Houstonian Brian Kondrach was trying to figure out how to host his running club's weekly Monday social. As an actor, Kondrach had experimented with Facebook Live before—telling jokes, promoting shows, narrating walks through the park.

His running club had yet to miss a Monday gathering, so in order to keep up the streak, Kondrach organized a hangout on Facebook Live—even if people couldn't be together physically, they could gather in spirit and check in on one another.

More than 20 people attended the Live "event," chatting with one another in the comments of the video while Kondrach encouraged everyone to drink a beer and relax. It ended up being one of the run club's best turnouts.

"It was just a way to get everyone involved," he said. "We had people who had never been to a trail show up."

At NRG Stadium on Wednesday, popular Houston self-help author and researcher Brené Brown had taken to Facebook Live to request donations of an often-overlooked need: new underwear for evacuees. Brown was posting on behalf of the Houston-based charity Undies for Everyone. True to her nature—Brown writes frequently about shame and vulnerability—it wasn't a glamorous video. She herself was in a sweatshirt, with no makeup and her hair pulled back by a headband. The topic was also less than glamourous.

"I'm gonna ask you for what we really need, because this is not a community that needs things to be pretty or wrapped in a bow," she said. "We need underwear."

"Even in a disaster like this, people start periods, people have accidents. It's really a dignity issue. Send us chones," she said, using the Mexican slang term. That video was shared more than 75,000 times, and Brown later posted an update that 20,000 pairs of undies had been delivered to NRG.

Just before Harvey hit Houston, local DJ Abrahán Garza was preparing for his monthly Sunday night set at Little Dipper Bar in downtown Houston. But by Sunday morning, downtown was flooded and his gig was cancelled.

"Little Dipper on Sundays is a sanctuary for people," Garza said. "I started thinking, I have my stuff set up in my back room. Why don't I just do a live feed and see what happens?"

So he posted on the event's Facebook invite that he was going to be doing a Facebook Live DJ set instead, and a handful of people replied to request songs and comment.

"The next morning, I woke up with the bug," Garza said. He scheduled another DJ session for that morning, then another, then another.

"What's cool is that people would say 'Oh, I want to hear this.' And if I had it I'd play it next," he said. "I actually had people message me saying, 'Hey, when is the next one?' And I'm like, well, we still don't know what day of the week it is in our heads. I could have a happy hour every day."

It might have seemed like a small gesture, but Garza said the feedback was immense.

"The one thing I really heard from people was, 'Man, I needed this today,'" he said. "Whether they were going to be at the bar or not, everybody was thinking of the things they can't do. And so I basically tried to give them a taste of normalcy."

Show Comments