Twitter Proves Mettle in Sandy, Despite Hoaxes

Social Media Provides Two-Way Information Lifeline in Crisis

Staying in Touch: As Sandy struck, many found smart phones and social media to be their information lifelines.
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Staying in Touch: As Sandy struck, many found smart phones and social media to be their information lifelines.

By Reuters

Published October 31, 2012.
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“We learned from the storm and tsunami in Japan that Twitter can often be a lifeline,” said Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman.

Jeannette Sutton, a sociologist at the University of Colorado who has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security to study social media uses in disaster management, said government agencies have been skeptical until recently about using social media during natural disasters.

“There’s a big problem with whether it’s valid, accurate information out there,” Sutton said. “But if you’re not part of the conversation, you’re going to be missing out.”

As the hurricane hit one of the most wired regions in the country, news outlets also took advantage of the smartphone users who chronicled rising tides on every flooded block. On Instagram, the photo-sharing website, witnesses shared color-filtered snapshots of floating cars, submerged gas stations and a building shorn of its facade at a rate of more than 10 pictures per second, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom told Poynter.org on Tuesday.

Many of the images were republished in the live coverage by news websites and aired on television broadcasts.

LIES SLAPPED DOWN

But by late Monday, fake images began to circulate widely, including a picture of a storm cloud gathering dramatically over the Statue of Liberty and a photoshopped job of a shark lurking in a submerged residential neighborhood. The latter image even surfaced on social networks in China.

Then there was the slew of fabricated message from @comfortablysmug, the Twitter account that claimed the NYSE was underwater. The account is owned by Shashank Tripathi, the hedge fund investor and campaign manager for Christopher Wight, the Republican candidate to represent New York’s 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tripathi, who did not return emails by Reuters seeking comment, apologized Tuesday night for making a “series of irresponsible and inaccurate tweets” and resigned from Wight’s campaign.

His identity was first reported by Jack Stuef of BuzzFeed.

Around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Tripathi began deleting many of his Hurricane Sandy tweets. Tripathi’s friend, @theAshok, defended Tripathi, telling Reuters on Twitter: “People shouldn’t be taking “news” from an anonymous twitter account seriously.”

Tripathi’s @comfortablysmug’s Twitter stream, which is followed by business journalists, bloggers and various New York personalities, had been a well-known voice in digital circles, but mostly for his 140-character-or-less criticisms of the Obama administration, often accompanied by the hashtag, #ObamaIsn’tWorking.


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