At the time of my last Sandy post, I had no idea the storm would be as catastrophic as it turned out to be.
As I say in my column for this week, I’m no stranger to hurricanes as a Florida native. I’m also no stranger to the Northeast, as I lived in NYC for several years before moving to Knoxville. But when the two were forced together, and Sandy began to mercilessly batter the region, I didn’t quite know how to react.
What was really striking to me was the incredible stream of posts on social media that kept me abreast of what was happening, minute by minute. Twitter proved to be the most valuable source — between its special #Sandy hashtag page and individual updates from users.
The Wall Street Journal wrote about the phenomenon — reporting that “the word ‘Sandy’ was mentioned 4.8 million times on various social-media sites Monday, up from 1.9 million times Sunday.” Instagram and Facebook saw a lot of activity, too, with “10 pictures per second being posted with the hashtag #sandy.”
After the hurricane finally left the region, the updates continued. Still, I’m riveted by the kinds of details I’m finding through social media, days after the storm has left. Tons of incredibly powerful photos and videos; firsthand accounts of things I wouldn’t otherwise know. It’s seemingly never-ending, and it’s so heartbreaking.
(Here is an interesting look at how to best use Twitter to track a story or event.)
Here are some of the most interesting Sandy-related things I’ve seen on Twitter, just today:
Some of the photos that have come from this storm have been truly remarkable. I’m not sure if it’s affected me more than the average person outside of the area, but when I see those images, it really gets to me. I think about my time living there, and I can actually visualize exactly where the devastation is. My empathy is through the roof for the people affected.
But one of the most frustrating things has been the misinformation that has spread in the wake of this disaster.
I first noticed it Monday, as the storm was approaching the U.S., and I was not alone. Photos started cropping up that seemed a little too outrageous to be true — and that’s because some were, which I touch on in my last #trending post. (The fakes were outed fairly quickly, like here and here.)
But what later happened was even more egregious. Twitter user @ComfortablySmug began tweeting false information about conditions in New York City as the storm began to impact the city.
He tweeted that Con Edison had begun to shut down power to all of Manhattan; that Gov. Cuomo was trapped; that the MTA was shutting down the subways for the entire week.
People caught wind of this and, rightfully so, were rattled. The misinformation spread fast, and even though it was disputed by the people and agencies themselves, it was too late. Unnecessary panic set it, and an already chaotic situation was made worse.
BuzzFeed in an effort to unveil the ‘Twitter villain,’ unmasked the formerly anonymous user. The man, they found, was “Shashank Tripathi the campaign manager of Christopher R. Wight, this year’s Republican candidate for the U.S. House from New York’s 12th Congressional District.”
He later apologized for what he had done and resigned as campaign manager.
Last year, at the annual Online News Association conference (which I regularly attend), there was a session called “B.S. Detection for Digital Journalists,” aimed at showing some of the best practices for verifying user-submitted information found online.
While many of these tips were industry specific, here are some that could be used to help the average user better detect if something’s real or fake.
(Photo above: The remains of a house destroyed by a storm surge due to Superstorm Sandy rests submerged in a flooded depression, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in the Staten Island borough of New York. AP)