The language of support: the case of the Christchurch earthquake
It is not unusual for spectators of a natural disaster to be affected by that disaster and to want to reach out to its victims – whether it be physically or spiritually. With the advent of the Internet and social media, many of these spectators use technologies to express their support and/or condolences. After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake messages posted to sites such as YouTube, nzherald.co.nz and TradeMe effectively became condolence books, and writing messages has become a ritual in contemporary society. Not surprisingly, the language of these messages is essentially one of support, evident in the inclusive “us” and “we”, and ubiquitous references to strength through prayer and family unity. This paper discusses a thematic analysis of roughly 1,500 messages of support posted on nzherald.co.nz between 22 February and 28 February 2011. Themes emerging showed a strong bias towards a belief in a benevolent God (Christian or otherwise), a focus on family and remaining strong under difficult conditions. Messages were future-oriented, expressing hope for recovery and unity while, at the same time identifying with victims. Negative emotions, such as anger and blame, were conspicuous in their absence. Language used indicated a perceived connection that spanned across geographical boundaries, and there appeared to be an unspoken assumption that those participating in the ritual of expressing support represented a community (albeit invisible) who felt the same.