Month: November 2012

Social Hurricane Over Hurricane Sandy

November 6, 2012

The US East Coast has been hit by a widespread flooding and left millions in the dark, struggling with rising flood waters and massive power outage. Hurricane Sandy, which  continued its way across the East Coast and forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain which was thought to be the fourth worst storm in terms of power outages in state history. More than 1 million people in different states were ordered to evacuate, as their homes sunk underwater and brutal winds toppled trees. The Red Cross estimated its shelters housed more than 11,000 people across 16 states and said they would remain open until residents can safely return to their homes.

The coverage of Sandy revealed that more than sixty people had been killed in the U.S., 23 of them in New York — including 18 in New York City, NBC News reported. Six people had been killed in New Jersey, as well as five in Pennsylvania; four in Connecticut; two apiece in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia; and one each in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. Before it made its way north, Sandy was blamed for 68 other deaths in the Caribbean. Also, more than 6.6 million homes and businesses were without electricity, about two-thirds of them in New York and New Jersey.

The nation’s transportation was put on hold during the flood. Nearly 16,000 flights were canceledas a result of Sandy, according to FlightAware. The Subway service was closed and left people with no transportation because they were “flooded up to the ceiling” and it takes some time to take the water out of the flooded tunnels. Otherwise, the bus service and cabs recommenced back to work.

The storm swept away plans for the presidential campaigns to hold events and cancel appearances. According to Reuters, President Barack Obama suspended campaigning and returned to Washington on Monday to oversee the response to Hurricane Sandy, while his Republican rival Mitt Romney held back political events to show respect for the storm’s potential victims. The president visited the damaged areas in New Jersey on Wednesday, and added that restoring power is “the top priority” for now.

The after math of Hurricane Sandy is worse than estimated. It shows that the death toll is still rising, and millions of people are still without power. Fuel could become increasingly scarce in the coming days, as well as, food supply could also become an issue, since most of the grocery stores were affected. Also, temperature is expected to drop in the affected areas, which could be a problem to households where heat is not available. Since financial markets and banks have closed, analysts estimated that they could lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

Hurricane Sandy drives Social Media traffic all over the world.

 Social media played a crucial role during Hurricane Sandy. People were updating their twitter feed, statuses, and photos on Sunday night and well into Monday when the hurricane made it’s way across the east coast. Some authorities and city officials also used Social Networks to aid people and keep them up-to-date on Sandy’s path, therefore, many users have used these minute-by-minute updates to find out about weather changes, power outages, and damage in their areas. Although Twitter feeds were flooded with Sandy-related tweets, a significant amount of rumors, jokes and pictures were shared virally.

Social media activity pertaining to Hurricane Sandy was not limited to the US, and the impact could also be seen right here in the Middle East.  Users showed their support and deep concern for the loss of the families.

In this Buzz Report, we took a look at social media reaction to the hurricane in the Middle East. The following analysis is based on 21,152 mentions of the hurricane and the events that followed, captured in both English and Arabic during the period October 30th – November 2nd, 2012.

People in the Middle East opted for social media as a source of information as opposed to watching news reports on TV, as well as to keep tab on their friends and family that live in the U.S. Internet and Social Media proved very useful as a live news feed since they were posting a vast amount of data to make sense of the situation.

Before making landfall on the shores of the East Coast, Hurricane Sandy pounded Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, leaving massive destruction behind. But very few media channels have covered the effects on the Caribbean countries. Research showed that Social Media users in the Middle East reacted to the issue only when it hit the East Coast, since the news media deployed their own massive force to cover every movement of the story over television networks and Social Networks.


Egypt generated the highest volume of Social Media buzz, generating 53% of the total buzz over the monitoring period. Users throughout the Middle East were discussing the events happening, most of which were re-tweets from news organizations all over the world that were covering the event.  Approximately 20% of the mentions showed deep concern to their family and friends that are staying in the U.S

United Arab Emirates and Bahrain issued a warning on their social networks, mainly on Twitter, and asked their local citizens living in or near the East Coast what precautionary measures to take and how to get in touch with their embassy in case of any emergency or assistance.

A tweet posted by the Ambassador of Bahrain saying “There is a cyclone ( hurricane ) about to hit India .. That also requires media attention . Right ?” went viral on his page. More than a 100 re-tweets were being made on that comment, which brought people to wonder why Sandy got more attention when it hit the U.S, whereas other countries have been affected by the incident as well and started tweeting about it.

In contrast, only 2% of users in Saudi Arabia were discussing this issue online, since the explosion that happened in Riyadh occurred during the same era as the hurricane. Some users were comparing the casualties in Hurricane Sandy to the explosion in Riyadh. Frustrations were expressed due to the fact that some users believed that this was an unfair comparison, given that the hurricane was a natural calamity and fair warning was given ahead of time, whereas the explosion was an instant occurrence and did not allow the community to put in place security measures.

Only 18% of the tweet mentions were in Arabic, most of which were from Saudi Arabia. Different attitudes permeated Arabic-language social media discourse throughout the region. More political and religious views were being discussed. Muslim extremists debated that the storm was the embodiment of the wrath of God unleashed against the infidels, and that what happened to America is its fate and a punishment from God for its oppression, disobedience and injustice and for straying away from God.

On the other hand, many users thought that this act was very ignorant, and it is absolutely ridiculous to believe that a natural disaster is God’s punishment on a nation. They believe that it is very absurd to latch on one’s hatred for a country and use that to justify a callous and dismissive approach to the victims of the disaster.

In conclusion, Social Media has become a very powerful source of information in catastrophic times, such as natural disasters and global tragedies. It permits people to have an instantaneous source of information keeping them up-to-date on matters that impact their lives and are cause for concern. Social Media is the medium that brings the world together in times of need.