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How Twitter shined during Hurricane Sandy

Published: Friday, Nov. 2 2012 1:59 p.m. MDT

A 168-foot water tanker, the John B. Caddell, sits on the shore Tuesday morning, Oct. 30, 2012 where it ran aground on Front Street in the Stapleton neighborhood of New York's Staten Island as a result of superstorm Sandy.

Sean Sweeney, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The social media platform Twitter served several positive social functions during Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the Eastern Seaboard.

David Carr wrote a first-person post for the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog about the significant emotional and practical roles Twitter played for him after he lost power in his New Jersey home and had to hunker down around a small, contained fire and a hand-crank radio.

“Twitter is often a caldron of sarcasm, much of it funny, little of it useful. But as a social medium based on short-burst communication, Twitter can change during large events. … It is hard to data-mine the torrent — some estimates suggested there were three and a half million tweets with the hashtag #Sandy — but my feed quickly moved from the prankish to the practical in a matter of hours as landfall approached. … Twitter not only keeps you in the data stream, but because you can contribute and re-tweet, you feel as if you are adding something even though Mother Nature clearly has the upper hand. The activity of it, the sharing aspect, the feeling that everyone is in the boat and rowing, is far different from consuming mass media.”

Reuters reported about the meaningful ways government entities and citizens exchanged information via Twitter: “Government agencies and officials, from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (@FEMA) to @NotifyNYC, an account handled by New York City's emergency management officials, issued evacuation orders and updates.

“As the storm battered New York Monday night, residents encountering clogged 9-1-1 dispatch lines flooded the Fire Department's @fdny Twitter account with appeals for information and help for trapped relatives and friends.”

BuzzFeed’s John Herman wrote about how Twitter played an integral part in debunking one very prominent false rumor: “Twitter's capacity to spread false information is more than canceled out by its savage self-correction. In response to thousands of re-tweets of erroneous Weather Channel and CNN reports that the New York Stock Exchange had been flooded with ‘three feet’ of water, Twitter users, some reporters and many not, were relentless: Photos of the outside of the building, flood-free, were posted. Knowledgeable parties weighed in. … Twitter beckons us to join every compressed news cycle, to confront every rumor or falsehood, and to see everything. This is what makes the service so maddening during the meta-obsessed election season, where the stakes are unclear and the consequences abstract. And it's also what makes it so valuable during fast-moving, decidedly real disasters.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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