Superstorm Sandy: Governors Use Twitter to Augment Life-Saving Efforts

PHOTO: New Jerseys Gov. Chris Christie used all types of communication, including twitter posts during Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 29, 2012.
Share
Copy

In past weather emergencies, Americans have tuned in to radios and televisions to get information on how to handle disasters, but with Hurricane Sandy, some governors used Twitter as a new way to reach their citizens.

Governors in every state where President Obama declared an emergency, except New Hampshire, tweeted about the storm throughout the day Tuesday, and their efforts continued Wednesday. Some sent out photos of damage, survival tips, traffic updates and other information.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted a YouTube video of National Guardsmen unloading supplies Tuesday evening.

"Hoping NYers are staying indoors&safe -->let your friends+fam know you're OK via social media, #Facebook status #Sandy," he tweeted earlier in the day.

Cuomo continued Wednesday to tweet minute-by-minute updates on New York City transit and excerpts from his news briefing with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Andrew Raseij, founder of Personal Democracy Media, a group that covers the intersection of tech and politics, said in this kind of emergency, tweeting can be important for governors.

Raseij praised New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's use of the platform.

"If he's out on social media warning people to evacuate before the press conference and that reaches somebody who leaves their home and then the power goes out and they can't even watch the press conference, then he's reached somebody and saved their lives," Raseij said.

Christie Director of Outreach Lauren Fritts said tweets from the governor's account these past few days were meant to inform and comfort New Jerseyans.

"If you know anything about Governor Christie, it's that he likes to communicate with the people of New Jersey his way," Fritts said in an email Wednesday. "Recognizing that many New Jerseyans are unable to watch TV or listen to the radio, we use the governor's twitter account (a common app on most smartphones) as a way to connect him with the people across this state."

Christie's tweets varied between informational updates and emotional expressions of empathy with the people of his state.

"Hurricane #Sandy is now moving twice as fast as I had originally been briefed-we are now expecting landfall in AC in the next hour," Christie tweeted just after 5:30 p.m. Monday. Later, in reference to people's ignoring his evacuation warning, "I hope and pray there will not be a loss of life because of people's decisions to stay."

Raseij of Personal Democracy Media said, "It's very clear that Governor Christie's emphatic use of social media saved lives in a moment of crisis."

Some, like Govs. Cuomo and Christie, have gone beyond the basic tweet, tagging other accounts and using hashtags to make their updates more searchable.

Raseij said social media posts are more effective when elected officials craft their own, rather than relying on a staffer to write the messages.

"Obviously, the authenticity of the elected official who uses it themselves creates far more affinity with citizens and, particularly in times of crisis, gives the public a sense that they're being led," Raseij said.

Not all the governors' tweets were quite as detailed and eye-catching as Cuomo's and Christie's.

Many of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's tweets interspersed with information about the storm advertised his upcoming interviews or linked to Facebook photos of his meeting with residents and officials, something that might be good for a public image but does not help the state's citizens through the storm on a practical level.

Raseij said elections to come will be guided by how linked in candidates are with their constituency.

"In the future, we're going to be electing leaders who are the most connected" he said, "not the most donated to."

UPDATE 11:56 a.m.: It turns out Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was tweeting information for his residents – from a separate Twitter account. His personal account, @BobMcDonnell, was the one disseminating information about his appearances on Morning Joe and WTOP. Another account, @GovernorVA, sent out tweets about traffic and weather conditions. Both accounts are verified and both feature a photo of Governor McDonnell, but the personal account has the title, "Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Chairman of the Republican Governors Association," in its bio, whereas the other account only has a link to the Office of the Governor's website.

UPDATE 4:48 p.m.: Any earlier version of this article compared governors' twitter followings based on population size using incorrect figures. This portion has been removed.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...