Last week's storm highlighted Twitter's role as a useful (and occasionally infuriating) source of information during an emergency. OTM producer PJ Vogt talks to Bob about how to find accurate information on the platform while mostly avoiding the chaff.
BOB GARFIELD: Since Twitter-propagated information can sometimes be as polluted as an overflowing East River, we’ll consider a few tips for healthy consumption. OTM's PJ Vogt gorged on Twitter all through the emergency, and he stayed relatively – for him – sane. PJ?
PJ VOGT: Hey, Bob. So yeah, some people said to me that for them Twitter was just a useless lie factory during the storm, and to them I would say that Twitter is only as useful as the people that you choose to follow. So like in an emergency you probably want to first pick the relevant institutions. I followed Con Ed, which is the big electric utility in New York, and they were incredibly active during the storm. So like [LAUGHS] – well, sorry. They were incredibly active during the storm on Twitter. One of my friends is a reporter.
[LAUGHS] She spent the better part of a day trying to get a phone call from them about what neighborhoods were going to lose power. I tweeted them [LAUGHS] and five minutes later they were like, oh, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Similarly, The Mayor's Office, the Governor's Office, these places - I don't know if it's a New York-specific thing or what but they were a great source for the most up-to-date information.
BOB GARFIELD: So your Twitter stream was just - city agencies?
PJ VOGT: No. If you think of Twitter as like a meal, the official sources are the nutritious parts, like the vegetables. The side dishes are your journalists and your experts. So this time during the storm, one of the guys that I was following pretty closely was the Wall Street Journal's – I think he’s their weather correspondent, Eric Holthaus? He just knew what was going on and could explain everything as it happened.
But the other thing about Twitter is that people end up being these sort of pop-up clearinghouses about information. So there’s this guy Joseph Weisenthal, the deputy editor of Business Insider. Normally the guy mostly tweets jobs numbers, but he's in New York, so he was giving out good information as he got it. And he was another person who for me just happened to be very reliable.
And, and then the other thing is that when you’re using Twitter, you want to be a fair weather friend. As soon as someone stops being useful to you – they give you wrong information, they re-tweet a lot of bad information, you just drop them.
BOB GARFIELD: So, in general, this experience, this total Twitter immersion during Sandy, did, did it yield any surprises, disappointments, revelations, heartbreak?
PJ VOGT: This is a little embarrassing, ‘cause I think a lot of people [LAUGHS] knew this already, but for me using it during the storm was the first time I’d understood the sense of community that people get specifically from this platform. At this point, my street flooded with waist-high water and a dumpster just floated past me. And I took a picture of it and I tweeted it out, and I was just expressing something. I didn’t really know who I was talking to. And over the next 20 minutes, I got I think like 10 to 20 messages from people asking me follow-up questions, telling me to be safe. They were people that I’d never met, and they were my neighbors.
BOB GARFIELD: Oh. I’m a little – I’m verklempt.
PJ VOGT: I just wanted to make you feel something, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Am I not but flesh and blood, PJ –
- just a man?
PJ VOGT: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: I’m glad you survived. Thanks very much.
PJ VOGT: Thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: PJ Vogt is a producer for On the Media.