Hurricane Sandy and how Social Media influences Information Dissemination

Our guest speaker this week talked about the different ways social media and ICTs can be used in a disaster setting, and, since it was extremely topical, how these technologies played a role in Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. One thing that we talked about in class that was interesting, was how things like twitter and facebook were key in getting information to people who were experiencing the hurricane, as well as to their family and friends elsewhere. Those two platforms also played a role in disseminating false information about the hurricane, its severity, and the aftermath. There were photoshopped pictures floating around, false rumors about sharks in lower manhattan, and just absurd tales in general coming both from the outside and causing hysteria for those there.

One of the benefits of things like facebook and twitter, especially in places like Syria and other regions of the middle east where most things could be censored and/or monitored by the government, is that these websites are completely a part of the private sector, and peoples opinions and thoughts can be voiced completely freely and unencumbered by fear of censorship. This has been incredibly useful in situations like the uprisings during the Arab Spring, but can be disastrous in an emergency setting. The amount of fake stories and pictures before, during, and after Sandy were extremely detrimental. Not only did they increase the amount of general hysteria among the population, but some such articles and pictures were gotten a hold of by the mainstream press, causing more hysteria not only in the effected area but all over the country as people were getting false information about what was really happening. It doesnt seem clear what effect it had on relief efforts, since organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross were relying on more reliable sources such as government publications or direct reports from the ground. It doesnt seem clear how possible it is for facebook or twitter to develop a way to verify information that has been posted without infringing on people’s basic rights, but there needs to be something done to lessen the amount of false information flying around, especially in disaster situations where it could end up exacerbating the stress of everyone involved.

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