Whenever I have to justify to others the utility of Twitter, I usually land somewhere in the “think of it as a global newsfeed” explanation. I am then normally countered with the very understandable “that’s what I have TV and the Internet for.” Hurricane Sandy, devastating to some areas here in New York City, has finally offered a valid rebuttal. What happens when your TV and Internet disappear?
With the recent power loss here in New York City, all those informational outlets short-circuited. For the first time in a long time, parts of one of the most populated cities in the world were cut off from everyone else. If you happened to have an Internet connection, however, you noticed the social world was keeping everyone informed.
The Pew Research Center analyzed Twitter activity during Hurricane Sandy between October 29 and October 31, when over 50% of related tweets were news and documentation of the disaster. News sources eventually caught on, and instead of broadcasting breaking news, pushed all information to their connections on social media, which then continued along the social web of connections. In the past, a disaster like this could have cut people out completely. But Twitter pulled through when almost everything else failed to deliver.
Other social channels also saw an influx of activity during the storm, with Facebook being used to make sure friends and family were safe and Instagram being used to document and share people’s experiences. One of Facebook’s most posted phrases was “We are ok,” while Instagram experienced its most shared event yet, with over 800,000 photos documenting the storm with the hashtag #Sandy.
Although the cause was unfortunate, it’s interesting to see how the tide to social media changed when almost everything else went under. Hopefully, users will realize that social media can be a viable means of conveying information and news, not just tools for chitchatting and networking. As with any other aspect of technology, social media can be useful––it’s just a matter of using them for your own needs. The hurricane shed some light on the situation, and there may be a shift in the way news is delivered on the horizon.
Author: Zack Smith