News Column

Social Madia Catastrophes

October 30, 2012

Scott Kleinberg

True or false: Everything on the Internet is true. You might think everyone would know the answer is false, but apparently some don't. Why else would so many people retweet, reshare and repost incorrect or misleading content about Hurricane Sandy as the storm batters the East Coast?

Do a search on Twitter and Facebook for "Hurricane Sandy" and you'll find amazingly useful information, from direct lines to government officials to emergency tip lines to meteorologists tracking the storm by the minute. Used that way, social media is a powerful and invaluable tool in times of danger.

With the good comes the bad. Sometimes it's outdated or incorrect information. Sometimes it's fake photos. Some people find it funny. Others don't see humor in such devastating events.

Here's a look at some of the ways social media is being used to spread information -- and misinformation -- about Hurricane Sandy, both good and bad.

Good

Twitter lists and Facebook interest lists: These are curated lists containing Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that could be of use to people during the storm. Lists such as these help people wade through the noise and concentrate on the content that matters most -- in this case, content related specifically to Sandy.

Posts from meteorologists: Sure, some meteorologists are on continuous loops on TV and streaming online, but sometimes a quick tweet or Facebook update is all you need. Weather updates in 140 characters or less make vital messages that much easier to comprehend and share.

Photos: Seeing what's happening nearby or in your neighborhood without having to venture into potentially dangerous areas is a good thing. One photo shared many times showed a crane dangling from a construction site in midtown Manhattan. Although most of New York was deserted, it was good to know of a potential danger.

Bad

Fake photos: The spread of fake Sandy photos is so rampant that at least one website is devoting great effort to investigating and verifying such pictures. The Atlantic is trying to help, with "an effort to sort the real from the unreal." If you aren't sure, just email the photo to alexismadrigal@gmail.com and Atlantic staffers say they'll do the rest.

Fake accounts: One that stands out is @RomneyStormTips -- not affiliated with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney -- which had more than 41,000 followers as of Monday afternoon. With more than 1,600 tweets, that's a lot of opportunities for misinformation to be spread. One of the tweets was retweeted more than 14,000 times. Later, two parody Twitter accounts -- @BrokenCrane and @One57Crane -- popped up, personifying that broken crane atop a luxury high-rise in New York.

Lindsay Lohan: This tweet, which for some reason advocates changing the name from Sandy to Sally, was among the most shared Sunday and Monday: "WHY is everyone in SUCH a panic about hurricane (I'm calling it Sally) ...Stop projecting negativity! Think positive and pray for peace"



Source: (c) 2012 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by MCT Information Services


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