It's been more than two weeks since Colin Burdette and his friend, Nick Wells, were injured in a four-wheeler accident.
Nick has a broken wrist and a concussion, and is recovering at home. Colin injured his spleen, broke an arm and most of the bones in his face (eye sockets, cheekbones, jaw – you get the picture).
Hours of surgery, a week in Akron Children's Hospital, and hundreds (if not thousands) of social media support posts later, Colin is home recuperating with this family.
Colin is back to doing what he loves. No, not playing soccer and football. Not running around the streets of Hubbard, Ohio. Not yet. For now, he's SnapChatting and Instagraming with close friends from the confines of his home.
Social media provides Colin, his family and friends, and the community the opportunity to connect in ways that wouldn’t have been possible just ten years ago. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms gave people instantaneous access to Colin’s support network, and the ability to send positive messages of love and support.
Colin’s mother, Molly Burdette, used her Facebook page to invite friends to the Akron Children’s website to send personal messages in the form of “get well” e-cards.
“I've been reading them to him,” Molly said. “Only one of his arms is mobile so it’s difficult for him to handle (electronic devices). He only remembers the last couple days in the hospital, so we've been re-reading all of the messages to him.”
Katie Burdette, Colin’s older sister, spent a considerable amount of time creating multiple social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #HelpColin in an effort to unite a broader social media community behind Colin.
“The hashtag campaign was mainly just to get the word out about Colin’s surgery,” Katie said. “I just wanted as many people to pray for him as possible.”
Colin’s facial surgery lasted nearly ten hours.
Her campaign grew so much attention that talk show host Montel Williams tweeted:
“Major shout out @katieburdette2 for reminding us all what being a big sister means. @ColinBurdette is lucky to have u Katie. #HelpColin”
Brendan Burdette, Colin’s older brother said, "Even the Ohio State University offensive coordinator, and actor R. J. Mitte (Breaking Bad) sent social media support messages."
"The outpouring of support was incredible," Katie said.
Katie’s campaign for Colin, and the league of people who responded to offer support, demonstrates the powerful, positive aspects to social media. While stories of the antisocial, negative uses of social media dominate the news, it’s important to remember the good social media can do.
Before the mass adoption of social media, it would take a long time for the message of a hurt child to reach a concerned community.
The Burdettes were able to get the message out in a matter of minutes. The speed of their communication activated the community, and led to rapid responses from friends who "virtually" rallied around Colin.
Some people think that it is because of social media that communities have become disconnected. Colin’s family and social media supporters proved them wrong.
~ A version of this column appeared in the "Connected" section of The Vindicator, Sunday, October 5, 2014.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.