What I Learned From Hurricane Sandy

I often talk about the increasing role of social media in our culture and day-to-day lives. Last night, as Hurricane Sandy pounded the northeast, I witnessed a profound unfolding of the story on Twitter. While I have experienced this dynamic before (e.g. Arab Spring and Japan Earthquake), this was one of the first times I’ve witnessed a U.S. natural disaster this closely using primarily social media. Since I follow many journalists in the New York and D.C. areas, I was given a first-hand account, as the storm blew through last night and into the morning. What I learned, and what I think many on Twitter witnessed, was an amazing contrast between real-time stories that captured raw emotions, and false reports, that in some cases were funny and in other cases could have caused harm.

Sources: The Age, Atlantic, Chicago Tribune, Hoax-Slayer, Mashable, NBC Today, Tumblr, Wall Street Journal, WPIX 11

Early on, as the storm approached, various rumors were started and many fake pictures were distributed. While some pictures and stories were clearly fake and meant to be humorous, others were potentially misleading. When I saw the picture of a large storm cloud with a cat face, it was funny. When a false story reporting three feet of water on the New York Stock Exchange floor went viral, it was not funny. The stock exchange flood rumor even made it to national broadcasts, reported on both CNN and The Weather Channel. Stories spread quickly on Twitter, especially when everyone is sitting around staring at their phones. The comforting thing is how quickly the fake stories were debunked by the Twitter community.

On the other end of the spectrum, when the New York University Hospital lost power and its backup generators failed, I began reading about it on Twitter hours before it was reported elsewhere. In another case, as phone lines were clogged, the New York Fire Department even used Twitter to try to help more people (FDNY emphasized though that Twitter should not be used instead of 911 for life-threatening emergencies).

Twitter is raw and often incorrect. However, it is also raw and connected — connected directly to human beings and their emotions. This direct connection through social media has enabled a massive leap in the ability to communicate with and learn about on-going world events, as well as those right down the road. Something is happening here. As more and more people are able to share their lives, especially when in turmoil, the world is better able to empathize and engage. Experiencing Hurricane Sandy through Twitter’s eyes demonstrated some of the negative things that happen with unfiltered communications. However, it also further demonstrated social media’s potential for advancing the power of human storytelling.

This article was written by Jeff Howland – Online Marketing Strategist at Dream Local Digital. Jeff grew up in Maine and has lived in the midcoast area on-and-off for over 12 years. Since graduating from the University of Maine with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology, he has held positions within the industrial sector, as a software engineer, and the financial and marketing sectors, in a broad range of technology management and client support roles. Currently, Jeff is on the Boards of Directors for two local non-profit organizations in the public affairs and education sectors. Jeff combines his passion for helping people connect, with his love of reading and writing, to form the foundation of his work as a media strategist and also for his blog, MEperspective. Immersed in the social media culture and curating and sharing insights gained through spending his days and nights plugged into the online and print media stream, he works closely with our clients and team to develop and implement online marketing strategies. When ‘unplugged’ Jeff likes to go for a run or sit down with a good book. Please contact Jeff at jeff@dreamlocal.com and for more information about Jeff, go online to: Twitter  LinkedIn  Google+

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