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Still weathering the superstorm

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Hurricanes couldn’t stop these early voters. Via ABCnews.go.com

We’ve all seen the damaging effect “Frankenstorm” has had on the east coast – and now we’re seeing the nation come together in the relief effort. With elections this week, a new set of problems has joined the massive list. From electronic voting machines without power and shortages of backup paper ballots; polling centers without power, damaged or moved; voters unable to reach polling centers or unable to mail in absentee ballots by the deadline to election administrators unprepared to deal with the multitude of unforeseen complications.

One source that will undoubtedly be utilized in getting the word out to voters today – Twitter.

Hurricane Sandy has been one of the most covered natural disasters on social media thus far. I remember Hurricane Katrina – as does the rest of the country – very well. I was a junior at Tallassee (AL) High School and we got most of our news from TV and radio. I didn’t have Facebook yet (that was back when it was still “exclusive” to college campuses), and I certainly didn’t have Twitter – so I watched the news the old-fashioned way.

Today, those who were in Sandy’s path live Tweeted the entire experience. As long as their phone battery lasted, witnesses Tweeted photos, assurances and videos of sharks swimming down the street. Between Instagram and Twitter, the whole world had a first-person point-of-view of the superstorm.

According to CNET writer, Eric Mack, “The Instagram community has been sharing photos from the storm – at a rate of nearly 10 each second – with hashtags #hurricanesandy, #sandy and #Frankenstorm.”

On October 30, for instance, #Sandy had more than “4 million mentions by almost 400,000 unique sources on Twitter” (via).

“When I realize my Internet might be down for awhile once the hurricane hits.”

News spread quickly on all social sites, but Twitter has really taken center stage. A CNN article listed a few ways “it’s hard to beat Twitter.” The National Weather Service tweets our forecasts and analyses hourly (National Hurricane Center). The Weather Channel, CNN meteorologists and surely your local weather team have also posted frequent updates and images. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA have been tweeting satellite images of the storm.

FEMA and the American Red Cross are posting updates about local shelters, blood drives and safety reminders. Elected officials are also tweeting up a storm with regular updates about evacuation plans, highway closures and emergency hotlines. Finally Amtrak, Greyhound and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, among others, are tweeting our transportation updates.

There are some cons about having an instant connection with anyone in the world – people have been spreading fake photos since the first drop of rain. For those of us not near the storm, we could believe that Photoshopped photo of the ominous cloud behind the Statue of Liberty was real. (Hopefully you didn’t.) There have been photos from other storms – and even movies passed off as photos of Sandy.

On that note, the whole world is watching … and commenting via social media. In Iran, the country’s state-run PressTV used an image from the disaster film “Day After Tomorrow” to illustrate their story on the hurricane. While over in China, users of the country’s “Twitter-like service” passed around the viral (and fake) video of the shark swimming through a flooded New Jersey town. One joked, “In China, it would’ve been cooked already.” (via)

Twitter didn’t just sit back and let the world post its concerns, jokes or Instagramed photos – it took an active role. Twitter set up a dedicated hub with curated resources (e.g. tweets from some of the above mentioned resources) just for up-to-date news on the superstorm. It also published more online resources detailed state-by-state on its blog.

Rocking the Vote

Those in the Northeast will be scrambling to print paper ballots and set up polling sites today. All the states that experienced power loss should have power mostly restored by the times the polls open, but with millions of voters powerless because of the storm, power companies are warning that full restoration might be more than a week away.

Luckily, states impacted by the superstorm could extend polling hours on Election Day or could have during early voting last week. Any vote cast during extended hours within 10 days of the election must be done via provisional ballot. Those in states affected should follow elected leaders and state offices to find out more about polling locations.

The whole world will continue to watch, whether through traditional media or social media, tonight as the next leader is selected. Hashtags will be changed from #Sandy to #Romney or #Obama and everyone will be offering their opinions – whether we like it or not. (For those interested, Unpolitic.me is a Chrome extension that will block posts on Facebook and Twitter that has common political terms or names. Social Fixer works on other browsers.)

No matter what it takes or who you’re voting for – Just go vote. Then you can tweet a picture of your sticker!

Twitter has become an excellent channel to spread the word in good times and in bad. Today, millions of people will log on to find out where they should go vote, what time polling places close and ultimately who won the presidential election. Lives have been saved (Check out this amazing story of a “one-woman Twitter response team.” Not everyone can get through to 911, not everyone has a generator for when the power goes off – but Twitter seems to be an easy way to connect with those who may need help.), cranes have been photographed and tonight the Twittersphere will become voting central. Was your vote affected by something you read on Twitter?

Sarah Funderburk

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