Hurricane Sandy left scenes of devastation and wreckage not only in New York but also in the online world. As concerned loved ones of those affected and simple netizens scoured the Internet for much-needed information about the storm, social media sites rose to the occasion and satiated our desires. It was social media we turned to for news that could comfort, soothe, and help those who were affected by the storm. But like all things created by man, social media is just a tool that could be used for good and bad. There were some who opted to use the tool wisely and, to put it mildly, badly. Here are some lessons to learn from the storm:
Go to reliable social network sites
Not all social network pages can be reliable. Choose which ones to turn to, like official city Twitter feeds or official Facebook pages. There are also social network pages initiated by concerned netizens that could be proven reliable. On Facebook, it is Justin Auciello’s “Jersey Shore Hurricane News” that is providing valuable information for those affected by the Hurricane in New Jersey. The site aggregated updates, organized volunteers, and provided locations of possible shelters for its subscribers (now reaching 187,000). The page was created in 2011 during Hurricane Irene, but Sandy ironically resurrected it. Timely and relevant, the page has also become a news hub akin to a Wikipedia and Twitter mashup, aggregating relevant and breaking news from JSHN contributors. During the peak of the storm, people were posting hundreds of updates every 15 minutes. The site also became bait for a few hoaxers who couldn’t do anything better but spread false information, but it didn’t take long before other subscribers exposed the false. Today, JSHN’s influence has gone beyond its fanbase; the site is also sourced by mainstream media and even monitored by the New Jersey Office of emergency and fire departments.
Double check the so-called facts… even if they come from “reliable” sources On the other hand, you’d also still have to double-check your “reliable” sources. There will also be people who would want to take advantage of situations such as these, for reasons that are ignorant, malicious, stupid, lazy, or self-serving. One such lesson that Sandy taught us is to never believe everything you hear online. False information can go viral, especially when there’s a mish-mash of instant information from different sources that go through your Twitter or Facebook feed. Photoshopped images and inaccurate information about Sandy spread through social networks like wildfire as posters jockeyed for attention. The sad and not-so-funny thing is that even mainstream media was biting on these unreliable news reports. For instance, USA Today reports that CNN’s weather correspondent “referenced a National Weather Service report that turned out to be incorrect.” CNN Spokeswoman Bridget Leininger had to issue an e-mail to air out the news service’s regret over the error. Meanwhile, National Weather Service spokesperson Chris Vacarro said that the news came from Twitter posts made by local New York media outlets; the news later turned out to be false. Perhaps the lesson is for the mainstream press as much as it is for the public—access to breaking news is not an excuse for lazy journalism.
Newsjacking: something to think deeply about
Companies and online marketers have both been called for “newsjacking” Sandy to gain sales or followers/readers. Hubspot defines newsjacking as the “practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing efforts.” In other words, you can say that is a form schadenfreude—deriving pleasure (in the form of profit) from the misfortunes of others. There was the case of American Apparel who provoked a backlash from the Twitter community after it promoted a 20% off sale for those in the affected areas, accompanied by the tagline “In case you’re bored during the storm” and the information for the online discount code: SANDYSALE. Hubspot itself was called out by some readers for “newsjacking” the Sandy story 5 Hurricane Sandy Newsjacks from Marketers, which has since been replaced with Is Newsjacking Hurricane Sandy Right or Wrong. The post was followed by a lively discussion in the comments section about issues such as freedom of speech, the role of marketers, and what is relevant and irrelevant in the face of tragedies such as Sandy.
Two key points to think about when you’re promoting a story or an event related to a tragedy:
– Are you providing something of value/relevance?
– Are you trying to help or are just trying to make profit out of it or trying to attract attention?
There’s a fine line to be crossed here, and it’s understandable that you’re thinking of doing your job (make sales/increase PR), but there’s also the traditional value of respect that people expect of any business or individual.
They say that after each storm is a lesson that could be gained. Sandy is no exception.
Personal note: If you’d like to help victims of Superstorm Sandy, please consider a donation to the global humanitarian organization World Vision. I am in no way connected to World Vision, but I am a supporter and believer of what they do for close to 100 million people in nearly 100 countries worldwide. Thank you!