Facing mounting criticism about the lackluster nature of its response to Hurricane Sandy in New York and elsewhere, the American Red Cross has doubled down on defensiveness–last week, the president and CEO of the organization called the organization’s relief efforts “near flawless,” despite attacks from sources as far flung as Occupy Sandy and Republican Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro.

And now, in a new article from Fast Company, Red Cross social strategy director Wendy Harman is touting a new web-savvy effort to placate people living in fear after the storm: sending out “digital hugs” via Twitter. From Fast Co.:

It’s not the same as being there in person, Harman says, but it does align with the humanitarian organization’s emphasis on hope amid struggle. They give an assuring, informative “digital hug”: If someone tweets that they’re scared of a tornado impact, the social engagement team can reach out and say “here are the three best things that you can do in this moment and keep in touch, we hope you stay safe, hugs from the Red Cross.” The Red Cross has given about 1,500 digital hugs–one of them by Honorary Chair Barack Obama.

Never mind food, water, and shelter–what the displaced, powerless people in the Rockaways, Breezy Point, and Red Hook really need is a cutesy social media reminder that the Red Cross really cares.

ANIMAL reached out to Red Cross media relations director Anne Marie Borrego, who said she didn’t think the “hugs” were patronizing at all. “We want to reach people in any way we can,” she said. “Even if we can’t be physically in front of someone, we want to convey that message of hopefulness in any way we can.”

As far as the organization’s “near flawless” hurricane relief efforts, Borrego said that “given the magnitude of the storm, we are very proud of our response,” noting that this is the Red Cross’s largest disaster relief operation in five years. “No disaster response is perfect, and we understand the frustration that people feel,” she added, “but with 6,000 volunteers delivering millions of meals, and hundreds of thousands of supplies, we are reaching more people and more neighborhoods than ever.”