As you've no doubt seen, photos from Hurricane Sandy have flooded (no pun intended) the Internet on social media and photo sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told Poynter on Monday that there were 10 pictures per second being posted with the hashtag #sandy. And that was just Instagram, and before much of the effects were really felt. There was a lot of talk that the "Frankenstorm" was Instagram's "big citizen journalism moment".
Sarah Lacy at Pando Daily wrote as much, saying, “The time when the seemingly frivolous app could get some Arab Spring-style gravitas. Just like the last three Presidential elections have been transformed by a new social media service — YouTube, Facebook and now Twitter — natural disasters and tragedies are emerging as a way for social media services to gain respect and legitimacy as world-changing agents as well.”
“In theory, Instagram has Twitter’s immediacy, and a broader reach, since it pushes notices out via Twitter, Facebook, Instgram’s own network, and email,” she said. “Clearly images are the best way to tell a story like this, and Instagram’s whole raison d’être is to make people better photographers. Add to that the storm’s target on urban, hipster, we’re-not-scared New Yorkers, and the time seems as good as any for the revolution to be Instagrammed.”
Among all of these amazing photos and revolutionary visual citizen journalism, however, are a whole bunch of fakes, for better or for worse. It's nothing new for social media to spread misinformation (see the countless Twitter death hoaxes of the past), so it's not surprising that photos from the storm are no different.
Not everybody sees this as such a bad thing though.
"For the most part, however, these fake shots seem to be coming from East Coasters like me who are so tired of stressing out over this that we've turned to the best coping mechanism of all, making fun of stuff," writes Helen A.S. Popkin in a Today Show blog post.
Hoaxes and fakes do have a way of working themselves out in social media. John Herman at BuzzFeed actually wrote an interesting article about the natur of Twitter when it comes to dispelling false information. In fact, that article talks about false tweets about flooding at the New York Stock Exchange.
"Twitter's capacity to spread false information is more than cancelled out by its savage self-correction. In response to thousands of retweets of erroneous Weather Channel and CNN reports that the New York Stock Exchange had been flooded with 'three feet' of water, Twitter users, some reporters and many not, were relentless: Photos of the outside of the building, flood-free, were posted. Knowledgeable parties weighed in."
While the piece is mostly about Twitter, you might say this kind of scenario can easily play out across social media channels. Herman even notes that the "micro-controversy drew to a close" when someone posted a pic of the dry building on Instagram (which was of course tweeted).[Lead image via BuzzFeed]