Following Superstorm Sandy: Three lessons social lessons learned

Crazy few days, right? Like many news junkies I’ve been riveted by Hurricane Sandy.

When I think about how I’ve read my news over the last few days, it was 95% social media, primarily Twitter. Particularly last night. I know that Twitter has had its “moment” several times this year. The Social Olympics. The presidential debates with its record-breaking number of tweets. But last night — especially for a newsie and social media junkie — was yet another truly amazing Twitter moment. Close to 5 million tweets with the word Sandy in them went out yesterday. Wow. It was incredible following the posts of journalists – many of whom were in NYC without power – using Twitter to get out the news. Even more compelling were the pictures (at least the real ones) coming from the public. The pleas for help — like this one from a woman trying to find a generator for a friend on a ventilator — that went answered. The useful play-by-plays of power going out in several hospitals, cranes collapsing, walls falling down. If you were paying close attention to Twitter, you saw it there first.

There were also many pitfalls. In the rush to get out information, misinformation ran rampant at some points. Among the biggest whoops moments: The NYSE is under three-feet of water. Nope. It was wrong. So was the report from Reuters about 19 workers at a power plant being trapped. Everyone’s seen the fake Sandy photos. There were a lot of them. Important note: While most of this misinformation originated from Twitter, it was very quickly corrected by Twitter. You have to keep paying attention. UPDATE: Buzzfeed “unmasked” the source of some of the most egregious Sandy information, incl. the NYSE rumour.


Three things I learned from Sandy (besides realizing my dog, Sandy, will forever share the name of such a ferocious storm. Should have gone with Cleo)

1) Yesterday, I learned how to Text to Tweet, just in case we lost electricity and mobile networks went down. Yes, you can SMS posts to Facebook and Twitter. Here’s how: Go to Settings under your profile and click mobile. Input your cell number. Now, text the word “GO” to 21212 (country code Twitter uses for Canada) It will ask you to text your username, password. You’re good to go. For more information check out Mashable and Twitter SMS commands.

Another handy resource: SMS alerts. Several folks in NYC received them straight from city hall asking them to evacuate. Emergency Preparedness Ontario offers RED alerts via SMS. Nothing quite as sophisticated exists in Toronto, which offers email updates for emergencies. Check with your local authorities.

2) We really can’t ignore Instagram. Ten Sandy photos per second were being posted yesterday. It’s not just for food pics. If you don’t use it already, get to know it. See my post about social photography from a few weeks ago. I’m going to be looking for ways to better integrate Instagram into our newsrooms. I’d love to see your examples.

3) Photo/information verification is still so key. Go to the source. Verify they took it. Use Google Images. Check with front-line responders, official sources. Do what journalists have always done. A social media tip is still just that, a tip.

Bonus tip: For big news events: Make a Twitter list. It will help keep you organized and keep track of a topic better. Here’s mine from Sandy.



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