Hurricane Sandy devastated portions of the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern United States, and Eastern Canada. The storm secured the title “Frankenstorm” due to the pre-Halloween timing of the hybrid weather monster. The hurricane killed over 110 people, caused raging fires, widespread flooding, and left millions without power or transportation. New York City, the city that never sleeps was left to a standstill. People sought shelter and were cut off from the rest of the world for days. Millions of residents are still experiencing a patchy recovery in parts of Brooklyn, Long Island, Staten Island and Queens.
People that were more fortunate and had cell phone service were able to use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram to communicate and document their experiences. Conversations began to take off after the hashtag #sandy emerged.
During the storm my cousin in Canada sent me a picture of The Statue of Liberty with an exceptionally large and ominous cloud hovering over top. I did not have access to the news via a television. The only connection I had to the real world and the media was my cell phone. My automatic reaction to the picture my cousin sent was, is that real? Later I found out it was not. Phony images began to circulate on social media, scuba divers in flooded train stations, pictures of dolphins and sharks, to ominous “Day After Tomorrow” like scenes, to name a few. Websites emerged that began to dispel authentic Hurricane Sandy pictures from the fake ones. The real images I came across on Facebook and Instagram were stunning. Sharing images and personal experiences aside, social media was, and still is, used as a vehicle to convey information during this pivotal time.
New York City’s MTA has long been criticized for its vague communication and a source of consumer frustration. During this time of crisis a majority of New York City residents were left immobile, without access to public transit. The MTA was able to circumnavigate the negative sentiment surrounding its communication, through fostering open communication via its @MTAInsider Twitter account. It became a central source of information, as updates were constantly, and continue to be, made in real-time. This has made it easier to track changes versus deciphering information uploaded to their main website. Tweets have allowed the most up-to-date information to be widely disseminated to the public, in a timely fashion that traditional news outlets would not be able to match.
Throughout the devastation of Hurricane Sandy social media was able to connect people that were isolated and cultivate a sense of common and shared experiences. The Internet allowed personalized displays of individual encounters. This allowed for a far more riveting narration of a collective story, compared to the narrow scope of pure facts conveyed via traditional media outlets. It was human sentiment that brought the thunderstorm to life, and it was all propagated via social media.