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The Dark Night

My jaw dropped; a chasm of darkness formed from which a silence of shock and awe emanated. Cars drowning, houses ripped apart, lights blacking out, and trees thrashing about, this all shocked me. But it was the lightning-like flash and fireball that ensued from the explosion that did me in. The images reflected off of my glasses as I cycled through them one by one, watching video after video detailing Hurricane Sandy’s rampage on October 29th – 30th, 2012. Worried. Stressed. Anxious. These words barely described the state I was in as I lay on my bed 200 miles away while I watched my city, my home, fall apart in the face of Mother Nature’s swirling fists.

However, despite the dark clouds overshadowing the East Coast, rays of hope managed to whittle their way in. Through cellphones, texts, Facebook, and more, people from all over the world managed to send messages of support and prayer to friends, family, and even strangers during Sandy’s fury. Prominent online news sites and articles, such as the New York Times article by James Barron and J. Goodman linked below, spread information and awareness of the destruction left in wake of the hurricane, leading to more support and help from the outside. These articles and websites linked to videos on YouTube and other images detailing the wreckage, and these in turn linked to other websites and blogs, repeating the process until everything linked back to the original news sites. In effect, a strongly connected network in the way of a directed graph formed, a series of pages endorsing and linking to each other’s information on the “Frankenstorm.” But the most interesting thing that I noticed while learning of the hurricane’s effects in real-time was the way that information spread online.

All the news that I gathered during the initial stages of the storm came not from CNN or the New York Times, but from Facebook and YouTube. Friends and friends of friends all shared their personal experiences through statuses, images, and videos, each effectively linking or forming a directed edge to a current piece of information. This growing information network soon had dozens of people linking and reposting information, many times the same information, thus becoming a prime example of information cascades. People jumped on the most shocking and heartbreaking of photos, those that showed the worst of the destruction, and these images and videos were shared and reposted without thought repeatedly. Only when someone noticed that a photo was a screenshot from the movie Day After Tomorrow did that image’s reposting end, showing the fragility of information cascades and how they can be based on very little genuine information.

But the view-count on most other articles, blogs, photos, and videos kept increasing over the course of the night. Google must have noticed all this activity on these pages due to the increasing number of searches and YouTube views because the endorsed information soon came up immediately when searching for “Hurricane Sandy Destruction.” Important websites and news agencies looking for information must have been using Google then, because those videos and images ended up in front-page articles within a few hours, such as the ones in the New York Times.

Basically, the recurring endorsement of webpages due to information cascades on social networking sites basically made them the most socially talked about videos and articles, giving them a higher standings on Google searches and then even higher importance when used in important news sites. People, after reading the news, would then share that information on Facebook again and the whole cycle would continue, that is, until readers become bored with the info or something new came up.

In the end, these rapidly forming information networks and cascades proved their usefulness and effectiveness in spreading information quickly and easily online. Thanks to them, many, including myself, managed to stay debriefed on the situation and helped keep us in touch with those still in the midst of the turmoil. I just hope that this network, this online community, stays functioning in the future, because, as Samuel Burke in his CNN blog states, this could be just the beginning of a long line of climate change altered super storms.




One Response to “ The Dark Night ”

  • Shienna Samson

    Really good article. I am from the Philippines, and I have some relatives off the East coast. The experience you’ve shared really gave me an idea about their plight in the US. Thanks for posting.

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