#Sandy: The Social Media Storm

Oct 30, 2012

Article ImageLike millions of people up and down the east coast of the United States, I spent Monday night bouncing between my television screen, my window, my iPhone, and my laptop screen. I was lucky enough to keep power until after midnight - though I woke up to a dark house - and so like the rest of the country, I kept tabs on the "Frankenstorm" with the help of multi-media. If your power was out, your mobile device may have been your only connection to the outside world.

While my local news channels showed shots of reporters along Connecticut's shoreline being battered by the winds, and nearly washed away by rising storm surges, the real story was unfolding on the internet thanks to social networks and citizen journalists - with more traditional media following suit.

As rumors abounded on Twitter - namely, a report of a flooding on the floor of the stock exchange - stations like CNN reported and then retracted the claim as news. Slate posted a great collection of YouTube videos depicting some of the most dramatic scenes of destruction. Josh Voorhees wrote:

"Given the storm-induced chaos going on in Manhattan and elsewhere at the moment, it's pretty difficult to pull together a complete picture of just how much damage Superstorm Sandy is wreaking on New York City... So instead, for now, those of us outside New York City are either stuck watching cable news reporters stand in the middle of flooded streets, or we're left to turn to YouTube." 

After all, you can trust what you see with your own eyes. Or can you? Well, according to some other reports, viral images can't always be trusted. Whether images were faked in Photoshop or old images were being recycled, not all the images from the day were accurate.

Despite those photos, Instagram was also a big winner for the day, reporting 233,000 photos with a Sandy hashtag, according to USA TODAY, with another 120,000 under similar hashtags. Other social stats: 4 million tweets, and the honor of being the top phrase on Facebook.

Many local officials turned to social media to get the word out, but so did the likes of FEMA. And media outlets turned to viewer-submitted images to fill in gaps in coverage when reporters couldn't be everywhere at once. Hurricane Sandy may go down in history as #Sandy, known as much for its historic impact on social media as it is for its actual physical effects on the coast.

(Image Courtesy of the The Birkes, Flickr Creative Commons.)