A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

social+mediaby Katherine Wroblewski
news editor

The next time you hear someone bashing social media, you might want to tell them to rethink their negative opinion. Don’t get me wrong, it has plenty of flaws. But when used constructively, it can sometimes save lives.

Nicholas Simmons, a 20-year-old from my hometown, was last seen around 5 p.m. on New Year’s Day. He left his home without his wallet or cell phone after having an argument with his parents. Sunday, Jan. 5, he was found alive in Washington, D.C.,—but it is how he was found that is truly bizarre.

Simmons’ parents set up a Facebook page to help them find their missing son, and someone posted a photo of a person that resembled their son to its wall. An Associated Press reporter, Jacquelyn Martin, had taken this particular photo, which was published in a local edition of USA Today on that Sunday alongside an unrelated story about homeless people in the D.C. area. Martin was pursuing a cold weather story, with the focus being how the homeless were surviving with such frigid temperatures.

Martin said she chose Nicholas because he stood out in terms of his age. The picture she took depicts Simmons leaning towards a grate trying to get warm, which she thought perfectly fulfilled her assignment. She described the image as “moving.” It was moving enough to make it to the front page of the local USA Today edition, which led to Simmons’ discovery.

Social media sites often receive negative criticism, and are rarely recognized for their positive contributions to our lives. Social media, such as Facebook, is more than just another tool to communicate with friends and to broadcast our personal lives. It has enabled us to maintain relationships with family and friends despite barriers such as distance. It can even be used to share world news and to spread trending fads. Stories like these remind us the power of journalism and its complicated relationship with social media. It showed us how a chance encounter can result in such a positive outcome.