In times of disaster it’s extremely important to keep in touch with family and friends, especially if they’re in a situation where they may need extra help. Luckily through the progression that has been made with technology and the growing popularity of Social Media, families are finding it easier than ever to not only contact loved ones, but to keep track of what is going on around them.
Right now the Northeastern United States is under attack by mother nature. Hurricane Sandy is unleashing high winds, rain, flooding, and even high amounts of snowfall as it collides with a storm coming in from the West.
While people hunker down and prepare, sites like Facebook and Twitter have been exploding with not only information about this monster system aptly named #Frankstorm, but photos, updates, and even some Election/Sandy parodies.
Users all over the world have taken to Twitter, using the hash-tags #Sandy and #Frankstorm to talk about this storm and to update their friends and families who may be in it’s path. Official weather agencies such as The Weather Channel have even been encouraging viewers to talk about this Hurricane on Twitter by showcasing “#sandy” on some of their more important television broadcasts.
When viewers see such a hash-tag, it’s their cue to get in on the conversations taking place about this storm, and about the current bit of news they are broadcasting at that moment. This helps to keep users connected, up to date, and it helps to grow the number of Twitter users who are using that specific hash-tag. It also gives agencies such as The Weather Channel an easy way to check in on Tweets about Sandy and to better share breaking news with their viewers.
While Facebook is not as broadly useful as Twitter for getting into conversation about breaking news, it is still a very important tool for keeping in touch with friends and family. There is already a group titled Hurricane Sandy with nearly 25,000 Likes and a constant flow of updates from those being effected by Sandy. Users are sharing photos, live map updates, information, and general warnings about this storm, which is quite important for those Social Sharers who prefer this venue over Twitter. The Weather Channel is also making excellent use of Facebook by posting status updates and sharing information about Sandy with their 1,231,400+ fans.
One way that Facebook wins out over Twitter during natural disasters is that the most popular posts on a feed will hang out at the top, giving those posts better visibility. With Twitter, messages are quickly cycled down through feeds, especially if there are millions of people talking about the same topic and using the same hash tag.
How the government uses Social Media during disasters
The FEMA-based website Ready.gov is using Social Sharing to keep people up to date about Sandy. Not only is their Facebook Page abuzz with tips on how to stay safe and where to get help, but their Twitter page is sending out updates every hour and making effective use of the #Sandy hash-tag so that users can more easily see their Tweets. FEMA is also making sure to update their blog about Sandy, for those Social Sharers who prefer more lengthy posts with more information. During disasters the Internet can hype attention and also draw comedy from the situation, which is why it is important for organizations like FEMA and The Weather Channel to use these popular hash-tags and sharing sites. This way their important messages are seen by as many people as possible through the general conversation, amidst the sea of information.
As more experts say that Sandy will be a storm for the record books, all of the Social Media buzz surrounding the storm has another important function. Because everything that goes onto the Internet is then a part of the Internet forever, all messages, posts, photos, videos, and stories that users share about Sandy will act as important parts of Sandy’s Historical log. Nearly gone are the days of sharing and saving such information by traditional forms of media such as newspaper. Ten years from now, if someone is looking for more information about Sandy they’ll simply need to hop onto the Internet and do a search to find millions of Tweets, Facebook posts, blog entries, Flickr photos, Youtube videos, and much more. For this reason the conversations taking place about Sandy by both regular and government users on all Social Media sites are very important.
Of course, try not to be fooled by fakes! As this Tumblr post points out, folks often see a photo labeled incorrectly but run with it and spread the picture around without checking first. If something looks too amazing to be true, it’s always best to investigate it before you hit that share button and attribute it to historical natural disasters like Sandy.
Update: November 1st, 2012
CNN has released an article stating that, during Superstorm Sandy, “…Emily Rahimi was responding to cries for help and offering words of comfort — all in 140 characters or less.” [source] Rahimi works for the New York Fire Department running their Twitter account, and is another shining example of how we can use the Internet in times of crisis.