A hurricane in 140 characters, fake photos included
As America sheltered from Hurricane Sandy, many of those in affected were forced to rely on social media as a vital source of information. Tim Roxburgh reports.
American residents caught up in Hurricane Sandy turned to Twitter as a vital source of new and updated information throughout the storm.
In the aftermath of the hurricane-turned-super-storm, Manhattan, Atlantic City, New York City and New Jersey all experienced flooding. Fires broke out in New York City that destroyed at least 110 homes. More than 6.6 million homes and businesses were without electricity throughout the country and at least 46 people in America and more than 60 people in the Caribbean lost their lives.
Brooklyn resident Alexandra White described the storm. “It’s really… it sounds like it’s howling out there. There’s the sounds of trash cans being thrown into stoops and not a lot of heavy rain, but just a lot of very scary wind.”
She said at the time that she wasn’t sure what to expect once the storm had passed.
“I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to see outside, I’m pretty scared. I know, like I said, I’m not close to the flood zones, but every picture I’ve seen of the damage that’s been done, it’s not something that’s going to go away over the course of 24 hours or 48 hours and I’m sure that my street looks like a complete disaster at the moment.”
Many national news outlets had trouble covering the storm across all of the locations, and Ms White said she relied heavily on social media to keep herself updated as the storm progressed.
“I’m happy social media is still updating me much faster than anything else. 10 years ago this wasn’t possible.”
Misinformation about Hurricane Sandy was also been spread on social media sites. Fake images of sharks swimming in residential areas, false reports of the stock exchange flooding and false rumours of staff trapped in an exploding power station were spread online.
However, Ms White said the benefits of the news updates she received on Twitter outweighed the disadvantages of any false reports.
“Even if there’s some fake news out there, I’d rather find the sea of truth underneath it.
“I probably won’t be going to sleep any time soon. I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to with the sounds of the wind out there and I’d rather be awake and trying to stay informed about what’s happening for as long as possible.”
Another Brooklyn resident, Arnold Wu, said the power of Hurricane Sandy had shocked the American public. Mr Wu had expected Hurricane Sandy to be similar to Hurricane Irene, for which he said some people had over-prepared.
“It was kind of like a big joke for a while afterwards. You know, everyone was laughing at everyone else: ‘Yeah, look at how much crap you bought, you stupid blah blah blah.’”
Ms White said that, despite the damage, she was optimistic about America’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
“The Government is responding to the storm and they’re taking it very seriously. President Obama declared a state of emergency over 24 hours ago and I’m really happy that FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] is going to be involved and things are going to be okay. As scary as they are now, it’s going to be okay.”
The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, was also optimistic.
“All of those who got out of Zone A when we wanted everybody to get out, you made the right decision and we’re grateful for the cooperation and we’ll do everything we can to get all of the services we need to everybody and to get the city back going… We’re just going to get through this the way we always do.”
<b>Tim Roxburgh</b> is a producer for The Wire [http://www.thewire.org.au/]