Early this week, Hurricane Sandy knocked out electricity along with numerous Internet connections as it pounded the U.S. Atlantic coast. As a part-newswire, part-911 hotline, millions of residents turned to Twitter (News - Alert).
Even as some websites failed and swathes of Manhattan fell dark, it hummed through the night.
For pranksters, the social network also became a fertile ground as they seized the moment to disseminate rumors and photo-shopped images including a false tweet that the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange was submerged under several feet of water.
A denial was issued by the exchange, but it was too late, as the tweet affected countless Tweeters, inspiring more posts and comments of a similar nature. CNN reported on air, illustrating how Twitter had become the essential – but deeply fallible – spine of information coursing through real-time, major media events.
But a year after Twitter gained attention for its role in the rescue efforts in tsunami-stricken Japan, the network seemed to solidify its mainstream foothold as government agencies, news outlets and residents in need turned to it at the most critical hour.
Image via Shutterstock
Residents encountering clogged 9-1-1 dispatch lines flooded the Fire Department's @fdny Twitter account as the storm battered New York with appeals for information and help for trapped relatives and friends.
In a building in Manhattan Beach, one elderly resident needed rescue. Another user sent @fdny an Instagram photo of four insulin shots that she needed refrigerated immediately.
For a friend on a ventilator living downtown, yet another sought a portable generator. According to a department spokesman, Emily Rahimi – who manages the @fdny account by herself while answering questions about whether to call 311, New York's non-emergency help line, or Consolidated Edison – coolly fielded dozens of requests.
In a small room called the Digital Operations Center at the Red Cross of America's Washington D.C. headquarters, a stream of updates from Twitter and Facebook (News - Alert), and a visual "heat map" of where posts seeking help are coming from, were displayed on six wall-mounted monitors.
Edited by Braden Becker