Social media and Superstorm Sandy

This week Hurricane Sandy (dubbed by the press as Superstorm Sandy) impacted on the North East coast, and delivered a powerful wallop to New York City. The story of the storm, its effects, and the resultant aftermath have captured media coverage. Effects of the storm have included power blackouts, severe flooding, and even loss of life.

Another, underreported, aspect of the storm is the loss of revenue to media outlets and communication companies. For one thing, as the storm impacted New York City Con Edison cut utility services to lower Manhattan in an attempt to avoid more severe power loss. Much has been written about the effects on the island of Manhattan, which has effectively been split in two: the city below 39th street, and the city above 39th street. Those below 39th street lost power, cell phone, and Internet service, while life for those above 39th street largely remained business as usual.

As you might expect, shutting off power to lower Manhattan has had wide-ranging effects. People who live in that area of the city who might otherwise be uploading pictures, videos, and other updates about the storm are now prevented from sharing their experiences on social networking sites.

Social networking has also attempted to mobilize to aid efforts to respond to Sandy’s effects. Many Twitter accounts were dedicated to following the damage caused by the storm. In fact, the Twitter account maintained by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) was reporting events as they happened, but many people began tweeting at the FDNY account with breaking emergencies. The steward of the FDNY twitter account had to tell other tweeters to not tweet emergencies, and that they needed to call 911 with any ongoing emergency situations.

Sandy has also been a boon to Instagram, as many residents in the affected areas upload pictures of the devastation. It is an interesting paradox, while the storm has prevented many people in the affected areas from accessing the Internet, but has also created a market allowing people to document the disaster through social media.

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