April 29, 2014 10:56:31 AM
Anyone old enough to have an AARP card remembers when major storms were accompanied by a painfully slow dissemination of news. When the old telephone, radio and TV transmission lines were interrupted, storm survivors and their family and friends far away waited anxiously for news.
In those days, there was a dearth of information. That is hardly the case now, of course.
In fact, there is often too much information delivered in the immediate aftermath of the kinds of storms we saw across north Mississippi and Alabama Monday.
In the old days, getting information out was left primarily to public safety officials through use of the media. Now, anyone with access to a smart phone and a Twitter or Facebook account is able to play a role as a "citizen journalist." Likewise, simple text messages have emerged as the most impervious means of communication when all other channels of interacting have been interrupted.
It is in times such as these that social media, which might otherwise exist primarily to link to cat videos, political rants and other forms of amusement, becomes a useful tool for delivering important information.
There is no underestimating the value of this. Monday afternoon, as a series of tornadoes swept across the state, people took to Twitter and Facebook to pass along updates from the National Weather Service, TV meteorologists and other official sources. Although it is difficult to quantify, it is likely that those warnings kept some people out of harm's way.
Also of great importance was the use of these technology tools to communicate in the aftermath of the storm. Within minutes, social media became a tool through which family and friends could check on each other.
In the old days, of course, finding out if a loved one had escaped injury or property damage could take hours, if not days.
Technology, like most innovations, can be a wonderful thing. It can also be a source of frustration and consternation, mainly because much information that is circulated is anecdotal. Often, the initial reports are based on inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable sources. While it is unlikely anyone is intentionally spreading flawed information, the fact remains that in the "fog of war," there is often little distinction between what is real and what is imagined.
In a crisis such a this, we are all grateful that technology has provided us a means of pushing through the excruciating silence that follows with information we desperately seek to know.
But it also worth remembering that the first information is not always the best information.
Technology has certainly altered the manner in which news of these kinds of events is shared. But the role of the media is not much different today than it was in those old days.
We handle social media reports the same way we handle any reports from the public. We either attribute the info to the original social media post or verify the information with officials. The key is sifting through the information and delivering to you the most accurate data possible.
We take this responsibility seriously, even if we sometimes fall short in that effort.