Last week we talked about ways to Frankenstorm Proof your product launch – this week, East Coasters are still trying hard to wrap their heads around the devastation and deaths that Hurricane Sandy left in her wake. With specialists saying Sandy delivered the absolute worst case scenario they’d predicted, she’s left New York and New Jersey in a state of emergency, needing disaster relief.
As with any breaking news, the majority of the world no longer turn to the newspaper or television for their news. It more commonly breaks online first via Twitter or Facebook. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey tweeted “Proud of Twitter right now” following this retweet during the most devastating hours of the storm on Monday night as Manhattan was battered with hurricane force wind, torrential rain and widespread flooding.
Pando Daily writer Hamish Mackenzie also tweeted that night, “Twitter has become an essential news medium. This is the year it was confirmed.” In the late hours of Monday October 29th when New York City faced the worst storm in their history, Twitter not only became a news source for up-to-date information on bridge and subway closures or a way to track the storm’s estimated billion dollar damage trail – it became a lifeline to those in need of help. In the week following the storm, it has become a powerful medium in the seeking of help from various charities and organizations; especially the American Red Cross.
But social media wasn’t helpful to everyone and for some startups – Hurricane Sandy inflicted a PR nightmare. Not to mention, the widespread sharing of false information and photoshopped images that left everyone wondering – what’s real and what’s not?
We look at the Good the Bad and the Ugly of Hurricane Sandy online.
Impending doom, old news or photoshop done well? – the bad
Both of the following images went viral as soon as they hit the web on Monday but were shot down rather quickly by sites like Mashable. as being false or photoshopped.
This image was actually published in 2011 in the Wall Street Journal when the city of New York was under tornado watch. Within minutes of it appearing online, it spread to Twitter and Instagram like wildfire.
This image wasn’t even old news – it was the result of photoshopping a shot of Lady Liberty with a supercell thunderstorm. Not an impending hurricane. And the story behind how fast it went viral further proves that once news hits the Internet – it travels fast.
These images and many more circulated the web all day Monday and into Monday night when true damage began to be reported. It left news followers constantly wondering if what they were seeing was real or just another fake photograph, including this one that ended up being very real.
Curious if you were fooled? The Atlantic did a great job of sorting the real sandy photos from the fake.
Instagram was flooded with Images – the good
Shortly before the storm hit on Monday, Instagram was seeing on average 10 pictures per second being posted with the hashtag #sandy. With Instagram’s broad reach (users can push snapshots to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and email) some of the eeriest photos from Sandy originated on Instagram. Add in some of Instagram’s famous filters and you’ve just made a disaster look beautiful. What may come as a surprise to some, Time magazine admitted to using Instagram to report on Hurricane Sandy with the best Instagram shots appearing in the next issue.
Twitter became the news source during Sandy. – the good
On Friday, Twitter reported that more than 20 million tweets were sent between October 27th and November 1st mentioning #sandy or #hurricane. Following the ConEd explosion during the storm’s landfall at 9:00pm, mobile usage from people in New York City peaked, showing usage doubling from the previous two days. Following the storm, tweets mentioning the Red Cross increased 30x. With the NY Times and news desks as well as Mayor Bloomberg turning to Twitter to share updates and evacuation info – Twitter played a critical role in spreading important Sandy updates. Its first hand observations were crucial to letting others know just how bad things were in the eye of the storm.
Businesses survive Sandy’s wrath – not the media wrath. – the ugly
Startup Uber tried to do the right thing by increasing their number of drivers in Manhattan but with it came a price that was forced onto users of the service. Following backlash, Uber began to absorb the extra cost and in turn cost themselves $100,000 only to get slammed in Pando Daily for their actions.
Retailer American Apparel made a huge PR faux-pas when they sent out their latest sale email – cashing in on those left in devastation with their “In Case You’re Bored During the Storm” sale offering 20% off merchandise. The offer was exclusive to Sandy stricken states on the eastern seaboard.
President’s Choice faced a similar wave of online criticism following their tweet asking followers what is scarier – Hurricane Sandy or a beverage with marshmallow eyeballs. The company has since deleted the tweet and apologized several times.
False Info – the ugly
As vital as social media was in helping others during the storm, there was a cloud of false information circulating the internet almost as large as Sandy herself. This led to others questioning reputable news sources, such as CNN who reported for a brief period that the NY Stock Exchange was under water only to later report that they’d received false information – presumably from their Twitter feed.
Need to get online – the good
As most of Lower Manhattan remained without power well into the weekend, generous New Yorkers who were with power came to the rescue and offered multiple outlets to charge devices. Brightbox offered their services for free in Manhattan for those without power and their CEO commented that since the startup launched in September, they’d never imagined the role they could play in disaster response.