Facebook Becomes Nation’s Hurricane Bulletin Board: “We Are Ok” Is #1 Shared Term This Morning

While Twitter plays both the rumor mill and fact checker for Hurricane Sandy news reports, Facebook is how people are leaving notes for loved ones about their particular situations. “We are ok” was the most shared term on Facebook as of 10am EST today. Others in the top 10 included “power” (lost power, have power), “made it,” and “safe.” Here’s the full list and why Facebook and Twitter trends differ.

Twitter’s strength lies in real-time news, a variety of perspectives, and peer review of facts. That’s why the latest, and often most accurate news about Hurricane Sandy-affected areas is on Twitter, and Buzzfeed was right to call it the “Truth Machine.”

On the other hand, Facebook’s strength in disaster situations is its accurate portrayal of our real-world social graphs, and its filtered feed that shows updates from who we’re closest to. That means if you post “we are ok” and your parents or best friends log on, they’re likely to see it. That same update could have been swept away in the torrent of tweets on Twitter.

Facebook doesn’t have Twitter’s rapid retweet feature and diverse graphs that can get false reports in front of those who can deny them. In the heat of the moment, it can spread inaccurate news. But when it comes to your own status, Facebook gets your message to the right people, acting like a town square bulletin board for your personalized community, wherever its members live.

Here are the top 10 shared terms by U.S. Facebook users as of this morning, compared to the 24 hours from Sunday to Monday morning, as shared by Facebook’s journalism program manager Vadim Lavrusik. Before Sandy hit, people were discussing weather forecasting and sending well wishes to friends in affected areas. Then as the storm hit overnight, people began sharing their personal situations to reassure loved ones.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency must be pleased, as Facebook is taking the strain of these updates off of the mobile networks. FEMA asked people to avoid wiresless calls and instead to text or use social networks.

Most people probably wouldn’t have called their parents about the latest false report of water on the New York Stock Exchange floor. However, they might have called to say they made it, were safe, or have power. Since it’s an asynchronous, one-to-many communication platform, each Facebook post could have relieved the need for several calls and texts, freeing up bandwidth for critical, urgent connections.

Facebook and Twitter’s roles in dealing with disasters do bring up one question. When necessary, the government and Emergency Broadcast System could commandeer the TV or radio airwaves to reach the populace quickly. The government was the one licensing the spectrum to private channels and stations, giving it the authority. Now with people cutting the cord and attention fracturing across online news and entertainment outlets, Facebook and Twitter may be a better way to get emergency information out.

So the question is, does the government have the right to insert a message into everyone’s Facebook news feed and Twitter stream in a time of crisis?