Oklahoma tornadoes: Social media used to warn, find information

Social media helped victims and responders alike share information and offer assistance following the deadly twisters Monday in Oklahoma.
by Matthew Price Modified: May 21, 2013 at 9:09 pm •  Published: May 22, 2013
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One major difference in Oklahomans' lives since the May 3, 1999, tornado has been the near-omnipresence of social media. In a 2012 survey from the Red Cross, 40 percent of people said they would use social media to let family or friends know they were safe.

According to the same report, 76 percent of dedicated social users during emergencies turn to social media for information about friends and family during a disaster.

These users are likely to take a safety or preparedness action based on the information they see in their social networks, the report said. Three out of four of these users said they've contacted friends and family to see if they were safe. More than a third said social information has motivated them to gather supplies or seek safe shelter.

“Social media has become a way to get alerts out quickly, share information and communicate with people you may have never met before,” said NewsOK Web editor Tiffany Gibson. “On Monday, many people were watching the storm unfold on Twitter, retweeting screenshots of the tornado and alerts from the National Weather Service Norman Forecast office. Others were also snapping photos and video, documenting the storm and sharing it with their friends.”

People also turn to social media to find out how to help. A NewsOK story on how to help and how to get help has been shared nearly 6,500 times on Facebook and 2,500 times on Twitter.

“After the storm hit, the recovery effort sprung up on Twitter,” Gibson said. “People began tweeting about how to help victims and where to send donations. The platform was beneficial to us because we were able to respond to them and answer their questions and concerns. We were able to spread information quickly and boost recovery efforts.”

OPUBCO's director of audience engagement, Jay Spear, said social media provides utility for the public.

“Social media gives people a sense that they can do something,” Spear said. Gibson created a Moore Tornado Lost and Found page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MooreTornadoLostAndFound) to allow people to connect with loved ones after the tornado. This was one of several ways people used social media to connect; whether posts were written by media or not, good ideas and information were shared.

“People have since created hashtags (words grouped behind a # sign) on Twitter to talk to one another about missing people, pets, photos and documents,” Gibson said. “Without social media, this wouldn't be possible.”


by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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