As of the 30th October at 12pm (GMT) there had been four million mentions on Twitter of #Sandy, from 400,000 unique sources.

As for photos, 233,000 images have been posted on Instagram with #Sandy – not all are credible, it should be added.

There has been a significant increase recently in the publication of false images online, whether it be a shark swimming on the ‘Highway’ (motorway for us UK folk) or sky high waves crashing into the statue of liberty. The latter actually prompted the production of a Yahoo! Article to ensure sure people knew the image wasn’t real.

Fake Hurricane Sandy image

Fake shark-infested flood waters


This leads nicely onto my main point. In disaster situations, are social media platforms beneficial or in fact harmful? Last summer in the UK there were murmurs of introducing social media blackouts during the riots. You can see the potential benefits of this; preaching in front of a large audience online is much easier than trying to drum up interest in the open where people can easily identify you. Social media makes it easier to voice an opinion and rile up a crowd.

However, social media platforms, especially Twitter, can also provide people with instant access to vital information during crisis situations. In the case of the London riots, Twitter notified people of dangerous spots to avoid in real time.

Many people have been tweeting about Sandy, and none more important than the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Governors of the affected areas and airlines, who are keeping their passengers up to date…all pretty useful stuff it has to be said. Celebrities have also joined the conversation, offering somewhat less-than-useful contributions. Check out  Lindsay Lohan’s bizarre thoughts regarding the hurricane:

While natural disasters like Sandy make excellent breaking news material, news channels often find themselves under immense pressure to broadcast events first, increasing the likelihood of mistakes. Caught in the eye of the storm, so to speak, both CNN and The Weather Channel inaccurately reported that the New York Stock Exchange building had flooded. They later corrected their mistake.

This natural disaster has not only brought to light false images – it has also shone light on a number of companies with alternative motives. Welcome to the world of Newsjacking! A clever but somewhat grey area, this is the process of using current news to promote your products. A couple of poor examples from American Aparrel and Instyle Magazine have come to light over the past couple days. Whereas a potentially useful one from Sears has been met with a bit more appreciation, mainly because they are providing consumers with targeted pages where the products available are generators, chainsaws and shredders, not just clothes and lipstick:

What are your thoughts on the use of social media in times of disasters such as Superstorm Sandy? Is it beneficial, or does it project more negativity and fear than is necessary?