Homes have been demolished, trees uprooted, power lost for millions. Over the last several days, people across America’s East Coast have felt the power of Superstorm Sandy. Even here in Cleveland, many have dealt with devastating home damage and the general inconvenience of life without electricity. Though I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t lose power, I learned Sandy was going to live up to her hype as I strategically placed cups throughout my room to catch dripping water Monday night.
When the storm first began its destructive path, I immediately became concerned for my friends and family in New York and elsewhere east; some even stranded further west without the chance of making it home to their loved ones. Text messages went unreturned, calls unanswered. I knew all of my friends would be busy updating their own families with how they were doing, so I turned to the one place I was certain I could stay informed on what was going on: social media.
Staying Connected, Staying Informed
Even throughout the chaos, people took the time to tweet about what they were going through and update their Facebook status to share pictures of what was happening outside their windows. I was able to learn friends in New York were OK and get a glimpse of what they were experiencing.
Twitter not only kept me connected to my close friends who I couldn’t talk to these past few days, but also politicians, news sources and even relief efforts. Social media acted as a lifeline and newswire for the millions who lost power.
USA Today and Radian6, which tracked social media use, reports that #Sandy has had more than 4 million mentions by almost 400,000 unique sources on Twitter in just one day. And from those 4 million mentions, #Sandy had the potential to reach more than 3 billion Twitter followers.
Radian6 also says the top phrase on Facebook in the last few days was “Hurricane Sandy,” with other terms in the Top 10, including: “stay safe,” “storm,” “East Coast,” “my friends,” and “prayers.”
There were 233,000 photos shared on Instagram with “#Sandy” as a hashtag, 100,000 under "#Hurricanesandy" and 20,000 under "#Frankenstorm" as of Monday afternoon, according to the Associated Press.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom provided an e-mailed statement to the news source stating, "There are now 10 pictures per second being posted with the hashtag 'Sandy.' I think this demonstrates how Instagram is quickly becoming a useful tool to see the world as it happens—especially for important world events like this."
Proceed with Caution
As I worked on Tuesday, I not only had each of my social media accounts open to check throughout the day, but also an accredited news source. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that things shared on social media sites aren’t always accurate. Pictures of storm clouds over New York or the storm’s damage circulated all over the Internet, many photoshopped (like the one here) or even from a different storm altogether.
When a Congressional Staff Member at the Twitter handle @ComfortablySmug tweeted “BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water,” countless Twitter users shared false information. CNN even reported this “news” on live television before the exchange could issue a denial.
A Chicago Tribune article advises: “Don't assume — ever — that no one is reading your tweets/posts. Even if you have three Twitter followers and a less-than-exciting job, you never know who is reading and who might share.”
Though I am extremely grateful that social media was able to keep me connected and informed, especially with my loved ones, we should all remember to use caution when sharing information and make sure it is indeed factual.
How did you utilize social media during Superstorm Sandy? Let us know in the comments below.