Picture this: you’re in a storm – a bad one. The winds are picking up, the rain’s coming down in sheets, and you hear a snap right before your house goes pitch black. Great – the power’s out. You light some candles, make sure everyone’s okay, and that the tree that took down the power lines didn’t do any damage. The next day, you still don’t have any power, but you want to let your sister know you’re okay and tell your dad that your power’s been out for twelve hours now. You’d pick up your cell phone to make a call, right?
Interestingly enough, FEMA has issued a suggestion on Twitter:
Use social media to let your loved ones know you’re okay. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have enough bandwidth to be continually supporting heavy traffic, and 3G/4G networks can support all the web traffic (on a slower-than-average speed), but too many people trying to make phone calls will congest the lines and make it more difficult to reach those you care about. FEMA has even opened up a text information line: texting “shelter” and your zip code to 4FEMA will let you know what shelters are near you.
The use of social media to spread news has been on the rapid rise – it’s a fast way to create concise content for readers to process quickly. Twitter has become a public forum for 140-character news bites, so we can consume and digest the information as easily as possible. It’s a simple way to get stories across without losing our interest – even the space of a box on Twitter is small, because we have a hard time comfortably reading more than 14 words on one line. We read these tiny news stories and spread the word to make sure others are informed.
There were tsunami warnings issued for Hawaii this past weekend, and news sources used Twitter for up-to-date information, both from government and personal accounts. (Hawaii was spared from a major tsunami.) As seen on CNN’s website:
Although the stream of information about Frankenstorm has increased almost as rapidly as the water levels from Sandy, it’s important to play it safe in a storm like this. Use common sense, stay indoors, be patient if your power goes out, and if you’re going to check up on those you care for, use your cell phone.