Two truths and a lie during Hurricane Sandy


Hurricane Sandy served to be a perfect example for the power of social media. According to CBS, there were three and a half million tweets with the tag #Sandy and 10 photos of the hurricane posted on Instagram per second during the hurricane. On top of that, there was also the significant purpose of journalism at work. This purpose is the search for truth.

Among the millions of tweets there were lies and rumors spreading through social circles. For example Shashank Tripathi, a hedge fund analyst and campaign manager of Christopher R. Wight, Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from New York’s 12th Congressional District, started his own fictional story for Twitter under the pseudonym @ComfortablySmug. He claimed the Stock Exchange floor was under three feet of water. The New York Post also contributed to the falsities by reporting that Mayor Michael Bloomberg was going to stop passenger cars from entering Manhattan.

But because Twitter isn’t like Facebook, in which only the person’s friends can see the posts, tweets are open to scrutiny from anyone, including journalists, political representatives, news organizations, and people who are more knowledgeable on the subject or can provide proof that a rumor is indeed just a rumor. Because of this a rumor can be put to rest just as quickly as it was brought to life.

For example, the New York Post’s claim was quickly shot down by Press Secretary Marc La Vogna. Also, Alexis Madrigal and Megan Garber from Atlantic Magazine, along with the social media editor Chris Heller and MSN international editor Tom Phillips were among the first to verify that many of the pictures, such as scuba divers in the New York subways, were fake. And all this happens in the matter of minutes.

According to an article on BusinessWeek‘s website, “After the storm passed, BuzzFeed’s John Herrman argued that Hurricane Sandy established Twitter is a truth machine that, under the right circumstances, systematically vets and destroys rumors as quickly as it propagates them.”

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