I've always been amazed by how much of a priority social media is to many, even as natural disasters like this week's tropical storm Sandy come ashore and threaten catastrophic amounts of damage.
For the days leading up the storm's North American arrival, weather pundits warned those in the Eastern U.S. and Canada to prepare for the worst. While I don't have a maximum amount of faith in meteorologists, I chose to give them the benefit of the doubt this time around.
As a result, I only went outside when I had to - I left the house for work, and I attempted to tie down or put away any backyard items that could get whipped up into the air and potentially crash through my patio door.
During this, I paid very little attention to updating my Facebook profile. Early into the evening before things got too serious, I put something Sandy-related on there, but then focused on the important stuff - like keeping the home safe.
Now, by no means have I been dramatically affected by Sandy - my neighbourhood and home remain intact. However, as we all know, much of New York and New Jersey is under water. Despite all of this, people in those regions just couldn't entirely break away from Twitter.
While official stats regarding how many tweets were sent out during the Monday evening touch down of the storm haven't been released as of yet, the FDNY at one point had to tell citizens of New York to not post emergencies on Twitter.
At 9:32 p.m. EST Monday, just as the awful weather pounded the region, the FDNY tweeted: "PLEASE NOTE: *Do not* tweet emergency calls. Please call 911. If it is not an emergency, please call 311."
The fact that firemen even had to say this is intriguing to me. I can't blame people for trying every last measure to get some help when an emergency is taking place, but really, how can Twitter really be of benefit?
For one, Twitter feeds move ridiculously fast, meaning that urgent tweets can very quickly fall into oblivion in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Unless someone is just copying and pasting the same message over and over again until a response is given, this doesn't make sense to me. Even still, how would one have time to do this during an emergency? At that stage, isn't the goal to physically attempt to thwart, or at least survive the emergency?
Also, wouldn't it make more sense to be able to clearly verbalize the issue at hand, and not make readers have to do lots of guesswork?
Secondarily, Twitter is a hub for bullshit and attention whores. Although I'd like to think that the majority of people stating emergencies on there are being genuine, I have a feeling that a lot of bored swine with opposable thumbs tweet problems as a way to try to get a rise out of people, take advantage of a situation, or simply try to make the news. We all know that making a fake 911 call can lead to issues with authorities, but one has wonder if the means are in place to track down and crack down on people that post fantasies on Twitter.
No matter who is sending the tweets during such harrowing events, I can't seem to find a way to totally understand the logic. Screaming from the rooftop, continuously dialing 911 until someone picks up, or physically trying to better the situation seem like better strategies to me.
We shouldn't have to glue the eyes of rescuers to social media pages, and we shouldn't have to make them guess which emergencies are true and which are being falsified.
Kick it old school folks and just make the call.
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